Laurie Anderson is a visionary artist and a pioneer in electronic music as well as a marvelous storyteller. She employs her voice, with its songlike phrasing (as in her 1981 hit single “O Superman”), along with instruments—some of which she invented—video and other acoustic props to weave her tales.
In her new film, Heart of a Dog, her beloved Rat Terrier, Lolabelle, takes center stage in an imaginative, lyrical, confessional narrative. As Anderson describes it, “It’s a series of short stories about telling stories.” Quoting David Foster Wallace, she adds, “Every love story is a ghost story.”
Over the course of this absorbing 75-minute film, she considers the deaths of her mother; her dear Lolabelle, whom she “co-parented” with husband Lou Reed; her friend Gordon Matta-Clark; and finally, Reed himself in 2013. Times critic A.O. Scott praised it as a “philosophically astute, emotionally charged meditation on death, love, art and dogs.” It’s also about learning to “how to feel sad without actually being sad,” as her Buddhist teacher instructed.
While the film offers a visual representation, it’s really Anderson’s Zen-calm narrative that conveys its message. Both film and score open with her recounting a dream in which she gives birth to Lolabelle. She then uses the dog as a springboard, digressing to a variety of other topics but always circling back to the dog. One of our favorite segments, “Piano Lessons,” is about how Anderson and Reed set up keyboards on the floor for their old dog (who was going blind), and used a clicker to train her to make music. As Anderson wryly observes, the dog’s playing “was … pretty good.”
The movie, which has a limited run, will be aired on HBO in 2016. Luckily for dog lovers and Anderson fans, Nonesuch just released its critically acclaimed soundtrack.
A gathering of ideas
There is an astounding amount of research on dogs—academic studies, medical research, social and psychological testing, not to mention reams of data gathered from our everyday lives. Thoughtfully assimilated, all of this information can help us and our dogs live better lives together.
I was reminded of how fortunate dog enthusiasts are to share in this wealth of information upon my return last week from Purina’s Better with Pets Summit (November 3). The annual event, this year presented in Brooklyn, NY, was a gathering of pet experts sharing their latest findings with the media. The theme for the day was “exploring the best ideas for bringing people and pets closer together.” It was an apt description.
The day started out with an inspired presentation by Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, a veterinarian and research scientist who studies the impact of nutrition on performance on sled dogs. A champion musher himself, Reynolds’ talk focused not on a program he’s involved with in the Alaskan village of Huslia. This small coastal community was the home of George Attla, a famed champion musher and native Athabascan who ruled the sport for thirty years before retiring. In honor of his son Frank, who died at age 21 in 2010, Attla started the Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Mushing Program. The program serves many purposes—providing skills, lessons in cultural traditions, and a sense of belonging to the youth population while uniting all townspeople around a common activity, mushing. The program, as described warmly by Reynolds and in a short documentary film demonstrates the power that dogs can initiate in our lives.
Next up was a panel discussion titled “Are Millennials Changing Our Relationships with Cats?”—offering the interesting observation that a new generation of cat people have now formed a community on the internet—so as dog people connect at dog parks, cat lovers now interact online sharing their passion for felines. We met Christina Ha, the co-founder of Meow Parlour, New York’s first cat café. Can a canine café be in our future?
The most anticipated panel “Stress, Our Pets, and Us” featured animal behaviorist Ragen McGowan, PhD; architect Heather Lewis (Animal Arts) and Dr. Tony Buffington, professor of veterinary science. McGowan discussed the value of having dogs work for their food citing her studies with grizzlies, chickens and mice on the practice of contrafreeloading (working for food when food is freely available). Lewis’s architectural practice specializes in designing veterinary hospitals and animal care facilities around the country, meeting the unique needs of both workers and animals. It’s evident that good design can have an important impact on animal friendly environments—from soothing color palettes to calming lighting levels or the simple use of horizontal bars (less stress inducing) instead of traditional vertical bars. The key takeaway: Mental exercise for animals might be as important to their well-being as physical exercise.
“Raising Pets and Kids” featured Jayne Vitale of Mutt-i-grees Child Development Director; Ilana Resiner, veterinarian behaviorist; and Charley Bednarsh, Director of Children’s Services (Brooklyn). The Bark features an in-depth article in its Winter 2015 issue on Mutt-i-grees, a program developed by the North Shore Animal League that offers academic and emotional support to students from kindergarten through high school, teaching them how to be ambassadors for the humane treatment of animals. Bednarsh and her therapy dog Paz, team up to assist young witnesses of domestic violence navigate the judicial system (a similar program first reported in The Bark). We were reminded of the important contribution to the health and well-being of the children in these extraordinary programs, and also to common households. Note to self: Don’t humanize your dog—study, understand, embrace their dogness.
The afternoon offered a room full of experiential exhibits—interactive displays that provided lessons in healthy environments, cognition, reading your pet, nutrition and your pet’s purpose. Manned by teams of experts, the well designed displays presented an immersive course in Dog and Cat 101. I’d love to see the exhibits showcased to the general public, those most in need of education and guidance in the proper care of pet companions. The day was rich with ideas and notes that we’ll shape into future articles for The Bark.
Purina’s commitment to offering a forum of ideas is commendable. In a similar vein, the company hosted another notable event on November 7—a free live video cast of the Family Dog Project from Hungary—with over a dozen presentations by leading scientists and animal behaviorist exploring everything from canine cognition to sensory perception in dogs. Like the Pet Summit, it was a fascinating collection of concepts and dialogue, enriching to everybody who participated.
For more check out #BetterWithPets
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The number is soaring
The number of homeless dogs in Greece is on the rise due to the financial crisis in the country. Many people are abandoning pets when they feel as though they can’t afford to keep them. The same issue affects the United States in tough economic times. Our recent Great Recession resulted in an increase in the number of dogs abandoned at shelters or simply dumped on the street.
In Greece, the number of stray dogs has been reported at over a million. Many local citizens are taking them in or feeding them, but there are still so many who need help. Besides the obvious concerns for these unfortunate animals themselves, the spread of disease and potential effects on human health has many people worried. Additionally, a lot of Greek citizens are aware of the damaging effects of hungry stray dogs on tourism in their country.
There are many veterinarians who are doing what they can to care for these stray dogs and tend to their health needs without pay. Some are sterilizing dogs for free to help prevent increases in the stray population. Recently, a group of British veterinarians came to Greece for a week to participate in efforts to spay and neuter stray dogs. Led by veterinarian Hugo Richardson, their work was made possible by client donations to Richardson’s London clinic.
There are so many people as well as dogs who are vulnerable in Europe right now and dependent on the kindness of strangers. Luckily, there are always some strangers who offer that kindness.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dressing dogs like the pope
A pope who shares his name with the patron saint of animals, St. Francis de Assisi, is unlikely to be offended by seeing dogs in papal wear. In fact, we can dare to hope that he would find it flattering to see dogs dressed in such costumes. Pope Francis, after all, has thrilled many members of the animal community by discussing an afterlife for many species, including dogs. He has also addressed the importance of kindness towards all living beings. Naturally, many people are dressing their dogs like him as a way to celebrate and honor the pontiff.
With hashtags such as #popedogs, #holyhound and #alldogsgotoheaven, social media has seen many dogs dressed as the pontiff. While claims that pictures of dogs dressed as the pope are taking over the internet are a bit overstated, there’s no denying that dogs in pope costumes are gaining in popularity. There have even been a number of names for these dogs such as Pup Francis, Puppy Pontiff and Pope John Paw II.
What do you think of the trend to dress dogs like Pope Francis?
News: Guest Posts
A little girl and her service dog vs a school board
The US Justice Department filed suit yesterday against a public school district in upstate New York for refusing to permit a student with disabilities to attend school with her service dog unless the family pays for a dog handler to accompany the pair.
The lawsuit alleges that the Gates-Chili Central School District in Monroe County, NY, violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that a public entity must permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, except under specific exceptions.
The child at the center of this debate, Devyn Pereira, 8, was born with Angelman Syndrome, a rare disorder that results in developmental delays, seizures and autism. Her mother, Heather Pereira, a single mother of two, spent more than a year raising the $16,000 for Hannah, a 109-pound white Bouvier trained to perform numerous tasks for Devyn, including alerting school staff to oncoming seizures, preventing Devyn from wandering or running away, and providing support so she can walk independently.
Pereira, has spent three years trying to convince school officials to allow her daughter’s one-on-one school aide to provide periodic assistance in handling Hannah—primarily, tethering the service dog and issuing limited verbal commands. The dog is trained to last the school day without food, water or bathroom walks.
The lawsuit requests the school district permit Devyn to act as the handler of her service dog, with assistance from school staff. It also seeks compensatory damages of about $25,000 for Pereira for the ongoing cost of the dog handler.
Announcing the suit this week, Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said: “Honoring an individual’s choice to be accompanied by her service animal in all aspects of community life, including at school, promotes the ADA’s overarching goals of ensuring equal opportunity for, and full participation by, persons with disabilities.” In hearing the news of the department’s decision, Pereira responded, “knowing the United States of America is not only sympathizing with our situation, but willing to take this all way to the top to fix it is an amazing feeling.” And she added, “I have so many dreams for my little girl and with the DOJ’s help, they are all within our reach. It is so exciting to think we are blazing a trail for all those that follow with service dogs.”
For more information about this lawsuit, or the ADA, call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800.514.0301 or800.514.0383 (TDD) or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov. Complaints of disability discrimination may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint/.
It may take more skill than a belly rub, but should massage only be allowed with veterinary supervision? California is the latest state to propose regulating the field of animal rehabilitation, and it could put many kinds of practitioners out of work.
With preventive health care booming, the state’s veterinary board wants to rein in non-veterinary businesses that cater to wellness, saying they “pose a grave danger” to pets and can increase costs for owners. The rule would mean only veterinarians, or physical therapists and registered vet techs, if supervised, could perform animal rehabilitation..
Opponents of the rule say the board has defined the field so broadly, it nets the use of electricity or biofeedback right along with exercise and simple massage used to soothe aching seniors, relax dogs that play sports, and socialize shelter pups.
“It is about defining everything as rehab, even swim facilities and pet certified fitness training,” says Linda Lyman, who attended a recent public hearing in Sacramento to air her concerns. Lyman says she has a PhD in physical education, has taken a canine medical massage course, and for seven years has operated Pawssage, a canine massage practice.
“I go to agility trials every weekend and massage dogs before, between, and after they run. My goal is always to make sure my client’s dogs can hike, walk, and do things with their owners while and when they quit agility.”
As the board’s proposal would have it, Lyman is practicing veterinary medicine without a license. Aside from the hands-on, she makes suggestions that could get her in trouble under the new law. At her recommendation, three clients bought pools for their dogs, for example.
In many states, a background like Lyman’s isn’t needed. Anyone can provide animal massage, including evaluation, treatment, instruction, and consultation. That currently includes California, where only “musculoskeletal manipulation” by the layperson is forbid. Other states call for direct veterinary supervision of the work, or allow it with a vet’s referral. Some require certification, like the state of Washington, where a 300-hour training course in general animal massage, first aid and more is needed.
Whether body workers massage humans, which calls for state licensing but not doctor supervision, or pets, “the good ones survive and thrive and the rest fall by the wayside, certification or not,” Lyman says.
In a few cases, lawsuits have accused vet boards that restrict massage of stifling competition. In Maryland, providers of horse massage successfully challenged the state vet board, and a recent Arizona lawsuit argues that massage is not a veterinary service.
Another meeting will be held on October 20-21, when the board will discuss comments received so far, and possibly vote on the final rule.
Lyman sees more at stake than massage, or any one service, she says. “This is about a pet’s access to all practitioners who can help it maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
News: Guest Posts
As embers fell and flames grew, the question of “what to take” often came down to a four-legged bundle. But the Valley Fire in California’s rural Lake County left many with just minutes to escape as it sped through parched brush in record time.
“The community had to leave so fast that hundreds of animals were left behind,” says Bill Davidson, director of Lake County Animal Care and Control.
Countless dogs that managed to stay with their people soon joined cats, goats, horses and more in evacuation centers crammed with cots and crates. One local shelter had to face its own tough choices; whether to euthanize existing animals to make way for the incoming. (Luckily, these two groups stepped in).
In South Lake County, where the 73,700-acre blaze began, among the worst in California’s history, the roads out are windy and narrow, through rock-strewn mountains and forests, with yawning drops at every bend. In 2011, a group of horse owners along with Davidson formed the Lake Evacuation and Animal Protection team (LEAP) to help prepare for the inevitable, catastrophic fire.
The volunteer group has trained to enter the fire area and either impound or shelter in place. The vast majority of city and county animal control agencies lack the training, equipment, or support from local fire agencies to do the work, Davidson says.
In recent days, some people ventured back into smoldering fire zones, escorted by sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers for a 15-minute check on the animals they’d left behind. Some would find their homes; others would not.
“Everyone is calling to have us check on their animals,” says Davidson. “The list is endless.” With the enormity of the crisis, he called in the ASPCA. Everyone wants to help, he says, but LEAP only uses those with fire training and personal protection equipment. The fire zone, where animals still wander, is filled with dangers. “Many things are actively burning, trees are falling, power lines are down, and fire crews are running around to trouble spots.” On Sunday, the ASPCA arrived with a 30-foot trailer. The four field rescuers and three shelter helpers are expected to stay through Sunday.
“We brief each morning and then they are gone for most of the day, not returning to well after midnight so far,” Davidson says.
The field rescue is uplifting at times, heartbreaking at others.
“As long as the property was spared, most dogs have done well,” he says. “Our goal has been to shelter in place as many as possible, providing food and water for the absent owner, then moving on to the next address.” If they survived the initial blast, most are far more comfortable and easily managed staying at home.
But over 1,000 structures were likely destroyed, “pretty much a total loss, including anything left inside,” he says. “The injured animals have been trickling in, all being sent for medical attention.”
How many dogs are missing? Davidson is sure there are hundreds that escaped yards or were set loose by their owners. “Social media has been full of pictures of animals set free by their owners before leaving. We have impounded about a dozen dogs just wandering around as we check on addresses.”
Lake County’s animal shelter now brims with almost 200 animals whose lives were upturned by fire…again.
In August, the county was struck by another roaring inferno; the Rocky fire, nearly as large but in a less populated area. Less than two weeks later the Jerusalem fire ignited. Help arrived from Chico-based North Valley Animal Disaster Group, but the run of disasters has left shelters reeling. And with some 600 homes lost, many people and pets are homeless.
“We survived the Rocky and Jerusalem fires, but it pretty much depleted our resources, both physically and mentally,” Davidson says.
“Then this came.”
And this is a very good thing
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.
It's been good to know yuh
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.
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.
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