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News: Guest Posts
Future First Dogs
Are Sasha and Malia’s future best friends—yes, plural—waiting in Colorado?

Best Friends Animal Society has gone one better than talking the talk when it comes to the Obama family’s new dog. They’re pitching a pair of Golden Doodles (one for each of the girls?) rescued from a Missouri puppy mill raid through National Mill Dog Rescue. Currently living with a Colorado foster family, the four-month-old Stella and Susie have overcome infections, including pneumonia, and are healthy and ready to answer the call, even if it comes at 3 a.m.

 

News: Guest Posts
More Love Connections Revealed
Q&A with Meg Daley Olmert, author of Made for Each Other

Forget about feeling self-conscious over your relationship with your dog. According to author Meg Daley Olmert (in a Salon Q&A and podcast) this connection yields a boatload of physical and therapeutic benefits. It all comes down to the fact that companion animals can double the flow of oxytocin—the powerful social bonding and anti-stress hormone—in our bodies. According to Daley Olmert, a recent Japanese study found that mere eye contact with a dog (!) releases a healthful surge.

She explores many aspects of the animal-human bond including why dogs appear to be such great mind readers. Apparently, it’s not about tracking brain waves but body language. Dogs "read" the micro-movements that accompany our thoughts of W-A-L-K and T-R-E-A-T-S.

I’m fascinated but a little reluctant to wade into Daley Olmert’s take on the research. I love the central argument—that the attraction-attachment between humans and animals is real and good and true—but I do sort of worry about reducing my relationships with Renzo and Lulu to ideomotor actions and pituitary hormones.

We'll have to see what Sacha Zimmerman says in her review Of Made For Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond in the upcoming issue of Bark (March/April 2009). In the meantime, now that you know dog love is essentially a biological imperative, why not tell us your wonderful love story.

News: Guest Posts
The Language of Euthanasia
What’s the alternative to “putting him down”?

(Editor’s Note: We received this letter from Bark reader Donna Kane of Portland, Oregon. She writes so honestly and forthrightly about an experience many of us have faced and stumbled over, we thought we’d let her open a conversation about the language we use to describe this difficult passage.)

My husband and I had a rough year and a half starting in June 2006 when we made the decision to euthanize our 16-year-old deaf and nearly blind dog. His quality of life was limited to a very small window of time on sunny and warm afternoons; the rest of the time, he paced and would flinch if you tried to comfort him. After that, our nine-year-old cat’s kidneys failed and we found ourselves in another round of grief, only to have our second cat of 15 die of a stroke six months later.

We are recovered now and have good memories and a great little rescue dog, who is delightful. But the words that come back, not only through our own loss process but throughout other conversations I’ve had the last couple of years, are “put him down.” Just as I’ve never considered myself an owner, but merely a guardian for the animals that I’ve adopted and taken the responsibility for, I’ve never thought when making the decision to euthanize them that we were “putting them down.” I find this term somehow offensive even when it comes out of the best of mouths with the best intentions.

“Putting him (or her) down” feels abusive and not something a loving person would want to happen to their beloved pets. “Putting him down” needs a compassionate replacement, nothing too cute or too blunt, but something that makes you feel as though you have done the right thing by your pet who has loved you unconditionally, given you years of pleasure and then relied on you to make a choice for them that is very hard for to you make.

News: Contests
Kiss Kiss Bark Bark
Contest: Tell us the story of your canine romance. Win prizes!

Dog love is a sloppy, serious, unconditional business that often brings out the best in us—and maybe in them too. And there’s something about the shortest month of the year with its insistence on public displays of affection that makes us want to belt out “That’s Amore!” from the doghouse roof. Help us celebrate dog love: Share your canine love story. Post a comment, ideally 100 words or less, by Feb. 28, 2009. (Be sure to include your email contact. It won't show up on the site, it's just so we can contact you.) Our five favorites will win a special Bark gift bag and, of course, bragging rights at the dog park.

 

News: Guest Posts
Kiss Me, Canine
Go ahead, it won’t hurt you and it's fun

I let my dog Lulu lick my face. It makes some of my friends a little queasy, which, honestly, is part of the pleasure. And now, thanks to some out-of-the-box research, I can say it’s not the risky behavior my more persnickety acquaintances think.

A recent study by Dr. Kate Stenske, a clinical assistant professor at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, found that dog owners who sleep with their pets, share food, or allow face licking are no more likely to share strains of E. coli bacteria with their companions than folks who avoid these habits. (Although, there is some evidence that dogs might pick up antibiotic-resistant germs from us, especially if we fail to wash our hands during food preparation.)

So this Valentine’s Day, go forth and fearlessly smooch your pooch. If you’re anywhere near Portland, Maine, you might be rewarded for your interspecies public display of affection. Planet Dog is sponsoring its 5th Annual Valentine’s Day Canine Cocktail Party and Dog Kissing Contest (Thursday, Feb. 12, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Planet Dog Store, 211 Marginal Way, Portland, Maine). The “longest, sloppiest kiss” wins $75 worth of socially responsible dog goodies. The party is free, but a $5 contest fee goes to the Planet Dog Foundation, which donated more than $100,000 to canine service programs around the country—such as Dogs for Diabetics in Concord, Calif., and Texas Hearing and Service Dogs in Austin, Tex.—in 2008 alone.

If you're stuck without a furry buddy this year, feel the full-contact love with this scene from a 2007 dog-kissing contest I'm not sure where:

News: Guest Posts
Couple Sues Shelter Over Plans to Euthanize Dog
Can and should Smiley be saved?

A nonprofit shelter on Whidbey Island, Washington, has been sued by two former shelter donors over plans to euthanize a dog named Smiley. According to a story in The Everett Herald, the shelter has argued that Smiley, who was surrendered two years ago (!), is too aggressive to place out in the public. The donors, who failed to meet the standards for adopting the dog themselves, say Smiley’s time in the shelter accounts for his bad behavior and that he deserves a second chance.

News: Guest Posts
A Beautiful Mind
Pondering the dog brain

“How self-deceptive is it to treat an animal as a human?” Joachim Krueger, a social psychologist at Brown University and blogger for Psychology Today, ponders this question in a recent post, which was inspired by the passing of his 13-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Kirby. While the topic is not exactly earth shattering for those who follow the latest developments in ethology—Bark contributors and readers among them—it is always a pleasure to watch an academic embrace the idea of a complex dog mind. My favorite line from Krueger’s blog: “I think it is a mistake to believe that eye contact between humans is a finely-honed tool for mind-reading, whereas eye contact between human and dog is delusional—because presumably their is no mind behind those eyes.”

News: Guest Posts
Big Yellow Sweetheart
Spend Valentine’s Eve with Martha

At Bark, we’re fans of Martha, kid-lit heroine and newest PBS idol. What’s not to love? The nervy yellow mutt with a nonexistent waistline and alphabet soup on the brain blabs up a steady diet of funny, gaffe-rich communications (which, starting last fall, were translated from the small page to the small screen in “Martha Speaks”). While the stories are geared for children ages 4 to 7, with the goal of increasing oral vocabulary, you don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the verbal richness of this spirited dog.

Check out our interview with Martha creator, Susan Meddaugh (Bark, Sept/Oct 2008), wherein we uncover a few secrets, including how soup unleashed Martha’s gabfest.

If you haven’t tuned in to this canine wordsmith, Friday is a perfect day to share the love with a Valentine’s Day-inspired episode titled “Martha and the Thief of Hearts,” which will be the second of two episodes airing February 13. (Check your local PBS listings.)

 

News: Guest Posts
Chloe’s Bill Divides Dog Lovers
The AKC isn’t happy with Illinois animal advocates

In Illinois, a bill designed to reform the puppy mill industry is causing controversy. According to animal advocates such as the Southern Illinois Pet Society, Chloe’s Bill will improve standards of care for dogs in commercial kennels, limit breeders to 20 intact adult dogs, ban convicted animal abusers from aquiring a breeding license, and require Illinois pet stores and breeders to tell prospective dog buyers where their puppies came from. The American Kennel Club strongly disagrees. Do you think the Illinois legislature should pass Chloe's Bill this Tuesday, February 10? Why or why not?

News: Guest Posts
Call of the Not-So-Wild
Wolves may have something to thank dogs for

The gene responsible for dark coat color in American Gray Wolves and coyotes is a fairly recent addition to these animals’ genomes and most likely arrived through mating with domestic dogs—according to a paper published online in Science Express. The bigger surprise is that the mutation (spread through hybridization) may be helping wolves adapt and survive.  Wolves living on the tundra tend to be light-colored, while forest-dwellers are dark. As tundra habitat decreases, a lighter coat is a disadvantage. Listen to a podcast with one of the authors.
 

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