Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
And this is a very good thing
September 15 2015
We first learned about the microbiome In “The Secret Life of Germs,” a fascinating article (with a great cover) in the New York Times Magazine. In that article back in 2013, Michael Pollan explored the subject of microbiome—the microbial species as he notes, “with whom I share this body.” The “gut” it seems is all the rage these days. Many writers like Pollan and Mary Roach (author of Gulp) are taking on the subject of bacterial life, many of which resides in our “guts,” and how influential they are to our good health and well-being. There is also a new fascinating book by Dr Robynne Chutkan, The Microbiome Solution, that will be featured in the next issue of Bark (winter 2015), along with an interview with the author.
But back in 2013, Pollan observed that “as a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota with a multifronted war on bacteria and a diet notably detrimental to its well-being.”
From antibiotics (both medicinally and from our foods) and anti-bacterial soaps to our obsession with ridding ourselves of germs and dirt—modern life is destroying our microbial ecosystems—with very harmful results.
It was pointed out that, "This may “predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections.” Also.
Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West may owe to a disruption in the ancient relationship between our bodies and their “old friends” — the microbial symbionts with whom we coevolved.
When Pollan pressed the researchers about the best ways to ensure a rich and thriving diversity of microbiome, dogs rank high in their suggestions:
“Some spoke of relaxing the sanitary regime in their homes, encouraging their children to play outside in the dirt and with animals — deliberately increasing their exposure to the great patina.” …
“What about increasing our exposure to bacteria? “There’s a case for dirtying up your diet,” Sonnenburg told me. Yet advising people not to thoroughly wash their produce is probably unwise in a world of pesticide residues. “I view it as a cost-benefit analysis,” Sonnenburg wrote in an e-mail. “Increased exposure to environmental microbes likely decreases chance of many Western diseases, but increases pathogen exposure. Certainly the costs go up as scary antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more prevalent.” So wash your hands in situations when pathogens or toxic chemicals are likely present, but maybe not after petting your dog.”
This underscores the findings from a couple other studies that we also reported on. In these studies researchers looked specifically at how dogs contribute to making children healthier, especially related to respiratory aliments. In one study, conducted in Finland, they found that
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.
And the other conducted by a study team at the University of California, San Francisco found that, “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.
Dr. Chutkan also fully endorses the healthful benefits to living with a dog and getting a dog tops her list of "LIve Dirty Lifestyle Dos." Noting too that "children with pets have fewer infections and require fewer antibiotics."
There certainly are many reasons why we consider our relationship with dogs to be mutually beneficial—we provide them with love, mental and physical stimulation, shelter and food. And what research is discovering is that we are only beginning to uncover the extent of the benefits dogs bestow on us.
August 26 2015
This is the 10th anniversary of Katrina, one of the five deadliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. Back then, we were days away from our deadline when we began hearing about the flooding and the desperate situations so many people and their pets were facing. We decided to scrap our lead stories and concentrate on covering Katrina. Fortunately (for us, at least), there were Bark readers and writers in the area, and they shared their on-the-spot perspectives. In the end, one of the big takeaways had to do with the importance of dogs in our lives—and the phrase “Not without my dog” has become a part of the public’s consciousness. In this issue, we reflect on that storm and the hard lessons that were learned in a guest editorial by former NOLA resident Ken Foster. We also meet up with Sally, our 2005 Katrina issue cover girl. She was among the rescued “Katrina dogs” who headed west in the first wave of humanitarian flights. She is also among the lucky ones who went on to inspire their new families—we write about hers, and other survivors’ remarkable stories.
On the feature front, Susan Tasaki makes the case for more research into the possible health benefits that medical cannabis might have for dogs, and Rebecca Wallick introduces us to an amazing volunteer first-responder team whose mission is to help animals in crisis situations. In a new series we hear from dog professionals about their work; we lead off with home-visit veterinarian Melissa Shapiro.
On the new book front we talk with Tracey Stewart (her husband recently retired from a popular Comedy Central news show) about her first book, Do Unto Animals. We also chat with New Yorker’s Maira Kalman about her new illustrated memoir with dogs. Intrigue novelist Alex Kava fields questions about her new series, anchored by a K9 handler with a true love for rescue dogs. Cathy Alinovi, DVM, and Susan Thixton, authors of Dinner PAWsible, promote the value of nutritious homemade meals. Amanda Jones reflects on her new book, Dog Years, which featuring dogs in youth and old age—she also took this issue’s cover photograph. And award-winning photographer, Traer Scott rounds out our “On Book” series with her new work, Finding Home, a tribute to shelter dogs everywhere. This list just hits the high spots, there is quite a lot more that we surely engage your interest and that you’ll be back for more.
P.S. As an added bonus, if you like Greek yogurt, be sure to see my take on how to whip up a batch, and what you can do with the “left behind” whey (here’s a hint: dogs love it).
A Good Herb? Medical cannabis might hold promise for ailing companion animals. By Susan Tasaki
It’s a Dog’s Life
BEHAVIOR: Nice to Meet You—taking the angst out of canine introductions. By Karen B. London, PhD
August 21 2015
A new book, K9 Scent Training by Resi Gerritsen and Ruud Haak, two of the leading specialists in identification, tracking and detection-dog work, provides beginners and pros alike with a handy guide to what you need to know about this fascinating activity. The authors cover the science of odors and how dogs perceive them, and there are step-by-step programs you can follow to help your dog earn her “searching and tracking” stripes. The book is also replete with interesting facts and insights, some of which we’re including here. Even if you don’t aspire to formal detection work, this is a natural activity that all dogs enjoy, and definitely one that will increase your bond with your dog.
• Feet first. What human body part has the most sweat glands per square centimeter and produces the signature odor that dogs use to track us? If you guessed feet, you’re right. They top the odor chart; sebaceous glands on the soles, sides and top secrete fats and cellular debris that, when mixed with bacteria and fatty acids, produce a scent that drives ’em wild. Even shoes don’t hinder transmission of the odor; it penetrates whatever is between it (sock, insole, shoe) and the contact surface (pavement, grass, sand). No matter what we’re doing, our feet produce a constant stream of smell. And, good to know, worn shoes are “especially good at spilling foot odor,” so if you’re thinking of making a quick getaway, get yourself a new pair of sneakers.
• Sex plays a role. According to the authors, when it comes to the sex of the dog and how good the dog is with scent detection, “It has long been known that females have a better sense of smell than males.” So why are K9 officers predominately male? Seems like the females’ smell, especially when in heat, is distracting to their male coworkers. So, while spayed females retain high marks in detection work, the higher pay scale jobs goes to the males.
• Sniff rate. A dog breathes in and out around 15 times per minute when sitting calmly. That frequency goes up to 31 times per minute while walking. But when a dog is actively sniffing, the inhalation/exhalation rate goes up to 140 to 200 times per minute. Hunting dogs and other detector dogs employ a technique called “air scenting”: one very long inhalation (lasting 20 times longer than a normal sniff), followed by an exhalation through the mouth. This transfers a huge volume of scent up their noses into their olfactory epithelium, which is directly responsible for odor detection.
• Humans have the knack, too. While we have far less sniffing talent than dogs, researchers have found that with a little practice, we can get better at odor detection. For example, study participants have been able to detect fear in human sweat as well as pick out our their own T-shirt in a batch of 100 identical shirts. In one study, two-thirds of the participants were able to follow a 33-foot-long scent trail of chocolate oil even though they were blindfolded and wore gloves and earplugs. They did it by smell alone.
It's been good to know yuh
August 6 2015
As at least half of the world knows by now, tonight is Jon Stewart’s final night at the helm of the Daily Show. I must admit that I get choked up just contemplating what we’ll do without him. Accolades, reflections and perhaps some Fox-directed gibes, have been pouring down on him, so it’s hard to add much more. Except that I really want to thank him again, and the writers, producers, staff and all the office dogs, for letting me share one whole day with them in 2012. That will always be one of the highlights of my Bark career. Being invited to “do the Daily Show dogs” was quite the honor for us. And being given free rein to use the show’s set with our photographer KC Bailey, including excited dogs being able to sit in his chair and climb up on to the desk (leaving a few scratches here and there), and then allowing me to trail along for the day, poking into offices, chatting with all the people behind this amazingly creative show, well, you probably can guess it—how much more fun could there be?
Jon Stewart is a man with a big heart and a wise head who gave us endless hours of insightful entertainment and now what might he do? In a recent interview with his wife, Tracey Stewart, whose delightful book, Do Unto Animals comes out in Oct., she let us know that the family is about to grow a little furrier and feathery when they add an animal sanctuary to their New Jersey homestead. She also revealed one of Jon’s secret passions—but you gotta tune into our fall issue to find out what that might be! Let’s also hope that he’ll follow in the footsteps of Sen. Franken—another dog-loving comedian/politico—and make a play for public office. Who knows, there might be a future opening in his state’s governor’s office.
But for now I just want to add our “thanks for the memories” to Jon Stewart for all that he has given us and wish him and his family the best in their next chapter. And yes, the tears are now flowing.
August 1 2015
Recently we reported on the use of genetic testing of dogs in a Manhattan luxury co-op.That time it was used to ferret out the breeds that a co-op board thought unsuitable for its residents, including Basset Hound, St. Bernard, and even Shih Tzu. It even went so far as requiring such testing to detail the percentage of each breed in any mixed dog—a ridiculous expectation because of the unreliability for such current DNA testing.
But now there is another story from New York, or in this case, Brooklyn, that actually focuses attention on the misadventures of the dog guardians themselves. While this story involves DNA testing too, it isn’t to finger breeds, but to identify which dogs were allowed to defecate (and do other messy things) inside of the One Brooklyn Bridge Park condo complex. This condo is one of those few dog friendly ones, even boosting a Wag Club (grooming and training center) on its ground flour. It has 440 units, and it's estimated to also be home to 175 dogs. But, get this, some people have been allowing their dogs to relieve themselves inside the building, on staircases, along hallways and even in elevators! Incredible, isn’t it? Even bad weather can’t justify such discourtesy and lack of common decorum. As was noted in the article:
“During December, the memo revealed, there were 52 reported occurrences, ‘a mix of diarrhea, feces, urine and vomit: found on virtually every floor including the main lobby and north and south lobbies; found in all five elevators and with the staff cleanup time ranging from 10 to 50 minutes (average time roughly 20 minutes) per incident.’”
So the decision was made to have all resident dogs have their DNA registered and kept on file to help to find who was fouling the common area. Do note that this building, where a two-bedroom goes for $2.5 million, is welcoming to dogs, its board president has a Shih Tzu-Poodle mix (that wouldn’t be allowed in that Manhattan co-op), so they clearly understand that mistakes can happen. As was reported:
In fact, the building had maintained a very tolerant position toward dogs that couldn’t make it to the ground floor. If your dog had an accident, you took care of it as best you could and then told the concierge, who alerted a porter to clean up the remains.
But certainly enough is enough, so it was decided that more needed to be done. The board went ahead and employed a service called Poo Prints, a subsidiary of a biotech company in Tennessee, which has attracted over 1,000 apartment and condominium buildings around the country to its service. So for the low cost of $35 for such each test and registration—balance that out by the cost of an unit in that building—everyone can hope the soiling will stop and the true culprits are caught. Even though this measure might have an element of shaming in it, it does seem to have helped. Since May when the program started, seven matches were made with fines of $250. And one resident was even caught twice.
What do you think? Any other suggestions of how to get people to act responsibly when it comes to picking up after their dogs? And while allowing your dog to poop inside a building and expecting others to clean up for you seems to be outlandish, there are still those who seem to refuse to pick up after their pups in parks, along trails and sidewalks too. This is the number one problem that communities still have about our dogs, and sadly, it reflects badly on all of us. So would love to come up with creative solutions, do you have any that have worked in your area?
July 23 2015
Great news! A small town in Spain, Trigueros del Valle, has become the first to acclaim that dogs and cats are “non-human residents” awarding them equal rights to co-exist alongside their human counterparts. With only a population of 300, Trigueros del Valle, has become the first municipality in Spain to enshrine the rights of “pets” alongside those of their human residents.
Pedro J. Pérez Espinosa, the socialist mayor of the town in the Castilla y León province of Valladolid, introduced the so-called Renedo Declaration to guarantee the rights of dogs and cats as citizens of the town.
“Dogs and cats have been living among us for over a thousand years,” said the mayor after the measure was voted in during a plenary session on Monday. “And the mayor must represent not just the human residents but must also be here for the others.”
The animal bill of rights was approved unanimously by the new town council.
It comprises 13 articles including statements such as “all residents are born equal and have the same right to existence” and “a resident, whether human or non-human, is entitled to respect.”
It also goes on to outline basic tenets against cruelty to animals such as article 9a. that states: “No non-human resident should be exploited for the pleasure or recreation of man,” And article 6b. that states “the abandonment of a non-human resident is a cruel and degrading act.”
Animal charities hailed the move and said they hoped it would be introduced across Spain. "This is a great day for humans and non-human citizens alike," said a statement from animal rights NGO, Rescate 1.
“Today, we are closer as species and we are now more human thanks to the sensitivity and intelligence shown by the people of Trigueros del Valle,” the charity said.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Room to Run in Shawnee, Kansas
July 2 2015
Shawnee Mission Park is the largest in eastern Kansas (and one of the most visited in the state); at 1,600 acres, it’s more than twice the size of NYC’s Central Park. A multi-use recreational space, it provides room for diverse activities such as disc golf, archery, fishing (the lake is stocked) and lots of hiking and bike riding. And, oh yes, a 53-acre off-leash dog area.
The OLA is, of course, what grabbed my interest. It’s one of the largest in the nation, and so for size alone, it deserves attention in this column. But wait! It gets better. Not only do dog lovers have an ample trail-laced area for their own exercise, there’s also plenty of space for their dogs to frolic and romp. All that, plus a cove with access to a 120-acre lake to practice dog paddling and ball diving. On a hot summer day in Kansas, that must be a welcome relief to both wading humans and their dogs.
According to superintendent of parks Bill Maasen, Shawnee Mission Park was created by a bond initiative and opened in 1964. The off-leash dog area was developed roughly 15 years ago, at a time when dog parks were springing up across the land. Typical of many large OLAs, it is not fully fenced, so a good recall is must here, something that’s often mentioned in the rave online reviews. (Smaller dog parks and dog runs generally are fully fenced, but—depending on their location and proximity to roads—larger OLAs seldom are. As in this particular park, fencing tends to be concentrated near roadways and parking areas.)
The landscape includes prairie and woodland, and because it’s bordered by dense woods, there are sightings of deer aplenty. OLA-goers need to be watchful of their dogs and follow the rules, including the requirement that “dogs must be under the control and in view of their handler at all times.” A wise choice.
Maasen explained that they are undertaking improvements soon, including expanding the often-overflowing parking area by many new spaces and installing safer gates so dogs won’t be able to push them open and run out to the road. They also have a large accessibility project coming up that will provide more stable paving for the quarter-mile walkway to the lake, improving its navigability for those who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices.
As for the lakeshore itself, instead of sand or dirt, pavers are used in what is called keystone construction: they “lock” together like Lego tiles, with pea gravel in between. The hard surface makes it easier to keep a wet dog clean after a dip and protects paws from hot sand.
Being inured to a region where park users have to beg for any kind of maintenance whatsoever at our OLA, I’m blown away by the fact that the Shawnee one closes on Tuesdays from 5 to 9 am for weekly park maintenance. Other than that, the OLA has generous opening times: summer hours are from 5 am to 11 pm, with minor adjustments in winter.
Reviewing this Kansas landmark tempts me to take a “Pete Campbell” plunge. In one of the series’ final episodes, the Mad Men character was poised to trade an office on Madison Ave. for one in Wichita. For him, the carrot was access to a Learjet. For me, it would be to have a park with a management philosophy that recognizes the importance of providing generous open space for both us and our dogs, operated by people who see the wisdom of meeting the needs of this important constituency.
To paraphrase another famous Kansan, “Toto, I have a feeling we are in Kansas,” and it feels good.
Escapees try to throw tracking dogs off scent
July 1 2015
Once those escaped killers, Richard Matt and David Sweat, were caught in northern New York, people were wondering why it took the authorities three weeks to track them down. Police dogs had soon after the escape caught their scent only three miles from the prison. Nonetheless there was chatter online that perhaps Matt and Sweat had used a trick of sprinkling pepper in their tracks to confuse the dogs. It was thought, that the fugitives might have been inspired by “Cool Hand Luke.” In this movie Paul Newman brings some “chili powder and pepper and curry and the like” with him when he made his escape. In the movie the ruse worked and threw Bloodhounds off and they ended up sneezing and rubbing their noses. But could this really happen? The New York Times consulted with Alexandra Horowitz, canine cognitive researcher, about the likelihood of this being effective and she thought it was “extremely” unlikely because, as she explained:
That when people move “they slough off dead skin cells, and the scent from those cells lingers both in the air and on the ground.” Dogs, even those who seem to have their noses close to the ground like Bloodhounds, can “air scent” too and as Horowitz explained “there is no way that people can erase the olfactory information that they are leaving.”
Nonetheless, it’s good to note the dogs did their job when they were the first in the team to alert that the convicts were making their way on foot. They also proved to be key members of the long manhunt by helping the authorities to narrow the field—with or without the pepper.
Experts give their views
June 26 2015
I listened in on a webinar today held by the good people of the Animal Behavior Associates—it was their June CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) Chat, the general topic was Pet Behavior Wellness. Similar to a veterinarian wellness exam, but with the main focus on a dog’s behavior. Participants were Suzanne Hetts, PhD, Dan Estep, PhD and guest “chatter” Nancy Williams, MA, RVT, ACAAB. Questions that they addressed included:
- What is behavioral wellness and why should we be interested in it?
- What does it mean to have a behaviorally healthy pet and how do you get one?
- How do behaviorally healthy pets act? What are the criteria for behavioral health?
- Is behavior wellness simply the absence of behavioral problems or something more?
- Does simply meeting an animal’s behavioral and physical needs put it in good behavioral health or is good behavioral health something more?
As professional behaviorists they all were frustrated that oftentimes clients came to them for behavioral consultation as the “last resort” instead of being proactive about their dog’s behavioral health. Being proactive about this can reap benefits similar to preventive medicine. They discussed the characteristics of behaviorally sound and healthy dogs, and referenced a test you can take, see how your dog’s behavioral health measures up.
Among the list of behavioral needs that should be provided to our dogs besides the basic ones of food, care and shelter, are providing a dog with the “ability to control some aspects of the environment, opportunities for mental stimulation, and for pleasant social contact.”
When the discussion turned to how to fulfill those particular needs, much to my surprise, they brought up the controversial topic of retractable leashes. None of these veteran trainers had started out as fans of those devices because so few people seem to employ them properly, but all three are now advocates for their wise and limited use, again, something that surprised me. But that turn in the discussion definitely sparked my interest to learn more. They talked about how all dogs aren’t good candidates for dog parks or doggie day care, but the retractable leash was offered as an alternative to giving a dog both the mental stimulation and some control over their environment. As we know, dogs prefer to walk ahead of us, something that is really impossible at the end of a standard six-foot leash and the resulting pulling on the shorter leash can make a pleasant outing into an uncomfortable walk for those on both ends of the leash. These experts spelled out the characteristics of beneficial leash walks which can be obtained by use of retractable leashes: they "allow for ample sniffing, physical exercise, ability to control their own experience, and lack of restraint and pulling against something." The three of them agreed that using retractable leashes does not mean that a dog will learn to pull harder on a standard leash, or that a dog will think she is in charge because she is able to walk ahead of you. Dogs basically like to forge ahead of us, playing “scout” perhaps, and those who can do so with the flexibility provided by a retractable leash, usually, according to these trainers, do not venture that far ahead or pull to get even further ahead.
But they cautioned that these leashes are also not appropriate in many cases and many dog people do not have the skill to use them properly. Retractables should not be used on city streets, in confined areas, or on dogs who can be aggressive to other dogs or people, by kids, with people with physical disabilities, when walking more than one dog or when walking a dog for training and not for exercise. For many of us a trainer will need to show you how best to use one.
I have never been a fan of these leashes, having had a horrible experience with a woman who did not know how to use one and almost hogtied me when her pup tried to play with my dog, her leash quickly wound around my knees and cut into the back of my legs, she didn’t have the sense to just drop the leash! But then again, that woman should never have used such a leash without proper direction. What Hetts, Estep and Williams had to say about this, made me question my ingrained negative perspective on retractables. But I know that this is really hot button issue, so am curious to hear your opinion.
You can purchase a recorded copy of the CAAB webinar for a small fee if this topic interests you (the retractable leash part is towards the end of the hour and a half long webinar) and sign up for free their monthly chats, they are always interesting and informative.
Learning a dog's heritage has its benefits
June 26 2015
When we adopted our dog Charlie from the Sacramento Independent Rescuers, his foster mom, Shana Laursen, who specializes in Greyhound rescue with Greyhound Friends for Life, told us that he probably had some Whippet in him, thinking that not only his brindle coloring but the “set” of his back legs indicated that he might have a sprinter in him. She also added that was one of the reasons she picked him to foster. Lucky for us she did because by the time we saw his posting on Petfinder I had been getting discouraged after scouring for weeks online pet adoption services nationwide and local shelters to find a scruffy male terrier to be the “bro” to our three female dogs.
At that time we didn’t really know what breeds contributed to making Charlie the perfect match that he turned out to be. Some type of terrier definitely in the ascendency, his very first night in his new home found him scooting under the covers to sleep at my side, a position he has proudly claimed since. As for the Whippet? Sometimes he manages to keep up with our speedy Pointer, Lola, so perhaps Shana might be right. It was time to figure that out, so we decided to “test” Charles’ DNA using the really easy-to-use, Mars Wisdom Panel DNA test.
Unlike other genetic tests that rely on blood samples, for this one you only need to collect saliva samples from inside your dog’s mouth, using the two swabs that come with the kit. Next you dry the swabs out for a few minutes placing them in a convenient “holder” that comes with the kit. Next you register the sample online, filling out a few basic profile questions about the sex/age/weight of the dog. Plus they pose some really interesting optional questions like the reasons why you are doing the test—perhaps you want to understand your dog’s behavior better, or confirm the breed make up of a prospective adoptee, predict the adult size of a pup, or testing for health reasons? Many breeds are prone to a variety of genetic diseases, so it is beneficial to know what breeds your mixed breed dog might be, for possible preventive or diagnostic reasons. Importantly, this newest version of the Wisdom Panel 3.0 also includes a screening for the genetic mutation for MDR1 or Multi-Drug Resistance 1 that can be a really important consideration, and which can affect many herding breeds. As it is explained on their website:
“The MDR1 gene is responsible for production of a protein called P-glycoprotein. The P-glycoprotein molecule is a drug transport pump that plays an important role in limiting drug absorption and distribution (particularly to the brain) and enhancing the excretion/elimination of many drugs used in dogs. Dogs with the MDR1 mutation may have severe adverse reactions to some common drugs. Although the mutation is most closely associated with some purebreds, it can also be found in mixed-breed dogs. Therefore it is important for owners of mix-breeds to test their dogs and to share the results with their veterinarian in order to provide their pet with the best possible care. The discovery of the MDR1 mutation in dogs was made by Washington State University.”
While it is unlikely that terrier-mix Charlie has any herding breeds in him, he might have a Whippet ancestor—the long-haired variety having a 65% frequency of this mutation—so it is good for us to find this out now.
Browsing around their interesting site I also found this very informative video that explains the genetics behind a dog’s physical characteristics. I actually learned a lot from watching it, including the reason that many dogs have white markings on the their feet and paws—or on areas farther away from the dog’s back (where the dominate color starts off). Watch the video for the explanation of why this is:
So stay tuned, we’ll be getting Charlie’s results really soon. But until we do, what kind of terrier do you see in him?
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