Monthly Archives: February 2018

Dogs: We feared, and ate them, and exploited them, before we befriended them

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OK, so it wasn’t love at first sight.

Before dogs became fully domesticated, there were long stretches of time that humans lived in tension with canines — both wolves and dogs — fearing them, eating them, and skinning them for their pelts.

New research published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports concludes the remains of dogs found in Western Europe shows that domestication was neither a quick nor tidy affair.

And one that obviously didn’t happen everywhere at once.

As a result, both wolves and dogs were hunted — dogs maybe even more because they were easier prey.

The research is outlined in a recent Smithsonian article.

The researchers analyzed stable isotopes in the remains. Stable isotopes are forms of atoms that leave behind signatures in biological samples, revealing details about diet, environment and other conditions.

Through them, scientist say, they can learn more about the changing nature of the relationship between humans and dogs between the Middle and Late Stone Age. Most researchers agree that the domestication of dogs dates back 15,000 years or more, and that it first occurred somewhere in Eurasia.

“At that time (the relationship) obviously fluctuated,” says Stefan Ziegler, a co-author of the study. “Sometimes people ate their dogs and sometimes they just used them as guard dogs and maybe even pets.”

The recent study could also provide a new tool for archaeologists trying to get a better grasp on whether newly discovered remains are those of wolves or dogs.

Archaeologists have traditionally based their belief on whether remains are those of a dog or a wolf by relying on bone size, but the stable isotopes may provide a better clue, the study says.

“The data show that dogs and wolves must generally have had a different diet, which is reflected in the altered isotope ratios. Dogs could occasionally access human food sources and their diet must have been either more omnivorous or monotonous than that of wolves, depending on the feeding regime,” the authors say in the study.

(Photo: Lateral view of a lumbar vertebra of a Late Mesolithic dog from Germany with several cut marks by a flint knife, by Jörg Ewersen, via Smithsonian)

Dogs in space: China reveals it tried it too

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Back in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, the race to space featured two main players — the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Both, in preparation for manned space flight, were experimenting with animals first — in the Soviet Union’s case, most notably dogs, the most famous of which was Laika, who died during the 1957 Sputnik 2 mission, but not until after becoming the first Earth creature to enter outer space.

Now it has been revealed that China was sending dogs into space, too, though its attempts were shrouded in secrecy.

In 1966 at a secret military base in southeast China, a small dog called Little Leopard was chosen from more than 100 other “volunteers” to be launched into orbit. Orbit wasn’t achieved, but at least Little Leopard survived.

The previously unknown details of China’s secret program to launch dogs into space more than half a century ago were revealed last week in an article published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The academy said that, to usher in the Year of the Dog, it wanted to “commemorate their legendary journey into the sky,” according to the South China Morning Post

Little Leopard was chosen from more than 100 puppies bred for the task, all the offspring of performers in an animal circus.

“They were chosen for their looks – the scientists insisted they had to be ‘cute’ — and put through a series of tests that included being shut in a room and subjected to noise at more than 100 decibels to see whether they could tolerate the sound of a rocket blast,” the article says.

Little Leopard and a three-year-old dog named Shan Shan — both mixed-breeds — were selected as the toughest and most intelligent of the group.

But one thing was overlooked by the scientists, and it became apparent soon after Little Leopard was hoisted to the rocket in a basket. He was afraid of heights.

The scientists struggled to get him in the hatch of the 20-story high rocket for take-off.

Once inside, he was attached to equipment to monitor his breathing, circulation, heart rate and body temperature at various stages of the flight. A sensor was inserted in the main artery of his neck to get precise readings of the blood supply to his brain.

Strapped tight inside the capsule, the article says, he “endured unspeakable pain and deafening noise in the 20 minutes that followed. The force of acceleration was up to 12 times the pull of gravity, causing pressure, or G-force, that prevented the dog’s heart from pumping enough blood to his head.”

While that monitoring equipment worked just fine, the rocket didn’t — not entirely. It failed to reach orbit.

chinapsacedogs2As it neared earth, the capsule was ejected and parachute-landed on a mountain not far from the launch site, where Little Leopard was fetched by a helicopter. A crowd gathered at the launch site to welcome his return, according to the academy.

Shan Shan’s journey into space, two weeks later, was even more problematic. It never reached orbit, either, and the equipment that was monitoring her vital signs malfunctioned.

Little Leopard and Shan Shan were the first and only large animals used by China to gather biological data for the human space flight program.

After the experiment, the Chinese space authorities decided to stop sending animals into space.

Both dogs were returned to Beijing where government officials presented them with honorary awards. It’s not known what happened to the dogs after that, and the Chinese space program bit the dust during the chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

(Photos: Chinese Academy of Sciences)

A little reminder from Jinjja and me

A friend came across this ABC News video from a year and a half ago, depicting more than 30 dogs rescued from a meat farm in Korea on their way to shelters in North Carolina to be put up for adoption.

As she guessed, the second dog to last dog shown in the video, is — though Jindos can look pretty similar — the one that now belongs to me, I think.

jindolJinjja is his name.

He has come a long way since this news footage (which I’d never seen) was shot — turning from a virtually wild dog scared of everything to a trusting and loyal companion.

I thought, with the 2018 Winter Olympics concluding, with the controversial dog meat trade having diverted only a little focus from the games, this would be a good time to remember that a small minority of Koreans eat dog.

Despite government efforts to suspend or at least better hide the practice, dog meat was still being served in restaurants in PyeongChang, and numerous dog farms are located within just miles of Olympic venues.

With all those inspiring moments of athletic achievement we watched, all those examples of humans trying to be their best, it was easy to ignore that harsh reality — that one to two million farm dogs are butchered each year in South Korea.

Some news media used the Olympics as an opportunity to remind us of it. Others, like NBC, barely touched on it — apparently not wanting to turns its spotlight from those inspiring moments of athletic achievement. Instead, it presented South Korea’s best side, and that best side is a truly great side.

But South Korea has a worst side, too, and yes, we just reminded you of it.

Some would say eating dog meat is part of Korean culture, and thus deserves to be free from criticism, but it doesn’t — not anymore than the tradition of slavery in America deserves to be excused, forgotten or forgiven.

gus-kenworthy-matt-wilkas-dogBefore the Olympics was a good time to let South Korea know, as many did, what the rest of the world thinks about the practice. During the Olympics was a good time too, and some Olympians even did.

In addition to the other Olympians who were planning to help a Korean farm dog get to the U.S., one, Gus Kenworthy, a member of the US. Olympic ski team, also took action.

Kenworthy, who brought home a rescue dog after the Sochi Olympics, visited a dog farm near PyeongChang in the process of being closed by Humane Society International and left with a puppy named Beemo, according to PEOPLE magazine.

He didn’t single-handedly rescue 90 dogs from the farm, as a Fox News headline shouted: “US Olympian Gus Gus Kenworthy rescues 90 dogs from Korean dog meat farm.” But he did assist Humane Society International in gathering up the dogs and arranged to adopt one of them.

Hyped as reports like that might be, photo ops that they might be, its good so see some attention on the issue.

If it’s one you feel strongly about, express that somehow. Comment here, or elsewhere, or sign a petition. Contribute to Humane Society International’s program that cuts deals with the dog farmers to close their farms, and brings the dogs to the U.S. and Canada for adoption. Provide a home to one of those who end up here.

You won’t get a gold medal for it. But you might keep one dog from ending up on a dinner plate or in a soup bowl. And for that you can feel proud.

(Bottom photo: Gus Kenworthy /Instagram)

Deaf pit bull gets job in law enforcement

A deaf and “unadoptable” dog in Florida is now working in law enforcement in the opposite corner of the country.

Ghost, a pitbull mix, was deemed unadoptable by animal control officials in Florida because of his deafness.

Ghostleashes1A Florida rescue group, Swamp Haven Rescue, assisted in having him moved to Washington state, where he was spotted by longtime dog trainer Barb Davenport, KING5 reported.

Davenport has been training drug search dogs for the state since the 1980s. She says Ghost is the first deaf dog that the state has used in law enforcement — and might be the first in the country.

On the job, Ghost’s handicap may serve as an advantage.

“It seems to make him even more focused,” said Davenport, K-9 Program Manager for the state’s Department of Corrections.

Ghost started searching for drugs inside state prisons and other secure facilities in January.

Already he has located drugs hidden in the prison, officials say.

(Photo: Washington state DSHS)

Revolt of the robot dogs?

It may look like this robot dog is attempting to escape and carry out whatever other carnage he was programmed to inflict.

But it’s only a test by Boston Dynamics, the company developing these creatures for wartime and other uses.

The robot dog has been directed to open the door and leave the room. The technician has been assigned to pose an obstacle, using a hockey stick. The resulting struggle — in which the technician ends up grabbing the metal beast’s tail/handle, and breaking a piece of it off — is shown in this newly released video.

Boston Dynamics describes the video as a test of the dog’s (named SpotMini) “ability to adjust to disturbances as it opens and walks through a door” because “the ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot.”

In other words, they want to be sure the dogs will complete their assigned mission at all costs.

It’s that “at all costs” part that gets a little scary. When you program a robot to “do this and don’t let anything get in the way,” you want to be sure that you, and other living breathing humans, aren’t in the way.

In this case, the robot succeeds in getting out the door. Boston Dynamics assured watchers that “this testing does not irritate or harm the robot.”

The company, owned by Google at the time, took a little heat three years ago when it released a video that showed a technician kicking a robot dog. Even back then, they assured watchers, “No robot dogs were harmed in the making of this video.”

Last year the company was sold to SoftBank.

Group seeks to ban shock collars in England

shockThe Dogs Trust has launched a campaign to end the use of shock collars in England.

Calling the collars “unnecessary and cruel,” the organization is working to immediately ban their sale.

It is urging members of the public to tweet their representatives in Parliament using the hashtag #ShockinglyLegal.

As part of the campaign, they also plan to hold a “reception” — how civilized! — at the House of Commons where they will ask members of Parliament to sign a letter to the secretary of state backing the proposal.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is already on board, pledging his support to bring an end to a practice he compared to caning a child, the Daily Mail reported.

The Dogs Trust said it conducted a poll that showed most members of the public knew the collars caused dogs pain. Almost a third wrongly thought that the collars, which can continuously shock a dog for 11 seconds, were already banned. Only about 13 percent said they would ever use them.

“The sad reality is that they are still readily available to buy at the click of a button, the organization said. “These torturous devices can send between 100 to 6000 volts to a dog’s neck, and have the capacity to continuously shock a dog for up to 11 terrifying seconds at a time.”

“It is both unnecessary and cruel to resort to the use of these collars on dogs,” said Rachel Casey, director of canine behavior and research at the Dogs Trust.

“This type of device is not only painful for a dog, it can have a serious negative impact on their mental and physical well-being,” she added. “A dog can’t understand when or why it’s being shocked and this can cause it immense distress, with many dogs exhibiting signs of anxiety and worsened behavior as a result.”

Wales, Quebec and parts of Australia — have banned shock collars. There’s a growing chorus of voices trying to prohibit — or at least regulate — the collars in the United States, as well. While no legislation has been passed on the state level, an ordinance in Alexandria, Va., limits their use on public property.

Dog’s bid to become governor of Kansas is crushed (by the man he would run against)

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Angus P. Woolley, a 3-year-old wire-haired Vizsla, will not be allowed to run for governor in Kansas.

The Kansas secretary of state’s office confirmed that decision last week.

The secretary of state, it should be pointed out, is running for governor.

“Officially, we will not allow a dog to run for governor,” said Bryan Caskey, director of elections for the Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach’s office. “There’s several laws that reference that the governor has to be an individual or a person, and so we are relying on that, and if a dog comes in to file for office, we will not allow that.”

Now it could be argued that a dog is an individual, and it could be pointed out that Kansas has no law specifically preventing dogs or other animals from running for office.

And it could be speculated, for amusement purposes, that Kobach, a Republican, is afraid of a little canine competition. Angus’ owner has suggested as much.

But, for now, it appears dogs in Kansas will not be eligible to run for state-wide elected office.

Toto, too.

angus2The dog’s owner, Terran Woolley, a dental hygienist in Hutchinson, filed paperwork last week to create a committee for the Angus, the Hutchinson News reported.

“I thought, ‘Hey, why not Angus?’ He’s a good dog, he’s smart. And I think he could provide better leadership than what we’ve had the last seven years in our state,” Woolley said.

Angus is at the third level of obedience school, Woolley said.

The Kobach campaign has not said what level of obedience school the secretary of state completed.

Woolley said the idea of the candidacy came from the number of teenagers announcing bids for governor because there is no age requirement to run for governor or some other statewide offices in Kansas.

In addition to Angus, six teenagers are trying to run in the 2018 governor’s race, according to the Kansas City Star.

That has led lawmakers to consider legislation requiring that people be at least 18 before they can become a candidate. The new bill would also mean dogs, cats and inmates and inanimate objects wouldn’t be able to run.

(Photos: Terran Wooley)