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Archive for April, 2018

Close encounter of the Great Dane kind


I was hit by a truck over the weekend.

Well, it was a Great Dane, but same difference.

He was a regal beast, and a gentle one, and I don’t think he even saw me until I was up in the air.

He’d come into the dog park, greeted those already there, and when one started chasing him he took off, looking behind him at the dog in pursuit as he gained full momentum.

That’s when he ran smack into me. I saw him coming, and debated veering to one side or another, but the feet have been a little slow to take orders lately.

So all of me went up into the air, where I floated, limbs akimbo, for at least a second before landing with a thud on my side.

The owner immediately approached and asked if I was ok.

I needed a few minutes to figure that out, and a few more to get off the ground.

The owner offered his hand to pull me up, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be up, or if getting pulled up by my arm might not be good for the shoulder that was bothering me before any of this happened.

So I laid there, checked to see if my various parts would move and thanked my own dog, Jinjja, when he came over to check on me — not the sort of thing he usually does as he’s mostly in his own world when he’s at the dog park.

I struggled to get on my knees and then all the way up, dusted myself off and — though the breath that had been knocked out of me hadn’t yet returned — pronounced myself OK.

Embarrassed about being on the ground, embarrassed by how long it took me to get up. But OK, thought.

I spent a few more minutes inside the park, during which time Jinjja would growl at the Great Dane whenever he got close to me, and come back to check on me a few more times.

I was touched, and deemed it progress. For this is a dog that, rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea, has never been great at showing affection, other than enjoying a butt scratch. So I considered it a breakthrough, and one that apparently didn’t involve any parts of me getting broken.

Sore yes — but not broken, or at least I didn’t think so for the next few hours.

Jinjja and I left the dog park a few minutes later, stopping to sit at a nearby picnic table just to regain my composure. The three young women sitting at the next table with their dogs having a picnic asked if I was OK and — all being medical students on the verge of becoming physician assistants — ran me through a checklist of questions, showing vastly more concern than the dog’s owner did.

We decided I would live, and — once their attentions shifted to another dog walking by with a hurt paw — I moved on, proud that nothing had snapped upon impact.

Now, the next day, I’m pretty sure something did, a rib to be precise.

The pain set in during the night, a pretty sharp one when I moved, took a deep breath or –heaven forbid — coughed.

I broke a rib once before and did nothing about it, which as it turns out it is pretty much what doctors do too. You just wait for it to heal. I didn’t visit one then, and I’m still debating what to do now. But I’m pretty sure I don’t want to spend $1,000 for tests and doctors that will tell me I broke a rib and there’s really nothing to be done about it.

Fault? That’s not a factor. Dogs, big and small, will run at dog parks, and not always watch where they are going. Great Danes? They are one of my most favorite breeds, and their clumsiness is part of their appeal. I was too old and slow — neither of which is particularly appealing –to get out of the way. That’s on me. Those who worry about being run over by a dog, should stick to the benches on the sidelines.

So no hard feelings, Great Dane. I hope I run into you again (preferably without you running into me).

And to Jinjja, and those physicians assistants-to-be, thanks for showing you care.

(Photo: An old Great Dane friend from Baltimore, named Soju, who has nothing to with this story)

Blind dog and guide dog adopted together

A blind 12-year-old dachshund and his guide dog — a beefy looking pit bull named Blue Dozer — were adopted together from a shelter in Richmond.

The two were surrendered to the Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) shelter last Thursday after their owner became homeless.

ojanddozerThey were adopted – together – before the weekend was up, WWTB in Richmond reported.

RACC said it tried to help the owner of the dogs find other accommodations without putting them in the shelter, but there were no other options available.

The shelter promised the owner they would try to place the dachshund, named OJ, and Dozer, together in a good home.

The shelter said the animals were adopted by a family that will “keep them together forever.”

WWTB’s original report can be found here.

(Photo, from the Richmond Animal Care and Control Facebook page)

Bill to prohibit eating dog and cat makes gains in Congress


Lawmakers in Washington are pushing ahead with legislation that would ban the eating of dog and cat meat in the U.S.

The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act of 2017, first introduced in March, has 100 co-sponsors and has been referred to a House Agriculture subcommittee.

Introduced by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), it would amend the federal Animal Welfare Act to establish legal standards against selling dog and cat meat, currently allowed in 44 states.

“We are very happy to have the support of so many activists who have taken up this issue with their own members of Congress,” Hastings told The Hill Thursday.

jindolBackers of the bill hope that it fills gaps in the animal protection law, and sends a message to Asian countries where dog meat is still consumed, including South Korea and China, where the annual Yulin festival in China sees thousands of dogs and cats are publicly killed and skinned, and their meat marketed for human consumption.

Animal rights activists are hoping publicity about the upcoming festival will provide momentum to the bill in Congress, and that the bill, similarly, will fuel opposition to the festival.

“I think that some people initially considered the idea of killing dogs for meat far-fetched,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, told The Hill. “But the very real butchering of dogs in Yulin reminds people that it is a very serious and disturbing issue.”

Earlier this year, Rep. Hastings introduced a resolution condemning the festival, which now has 166 co-sponsors from both parties.

While dog meat consumption in the U.S. is limited, most states still allow dogs to be raised and sold for meat. Only California, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, New York and Virginia have banned such practices.

(Photos: At top, dogs awaiting slaughter at a street market near Seoul; lower, my favorite meat dog, Jinjja, rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea; photos by John Woestendiek)

Don, the talking dog who started it all

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In this era of talking dogs — from the animated creatures in Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” to those so easily found “conversing” on the Internet — it might behoove us to remember the first “real” one, the star of a vaudeville act known as Don the Talking Dog.

And since not too many of us were around in 1912 to recall that, we’re fortunate that Smithsonian Magazine writer Greg Daugherty revisited that era and that dog for the magazine recently.

Don the Talking Dog, a setter or pointer from Germany, made his debut in the U.S. in 1912 — during the golden age of vaudeville, the less salty cousin of burlesque, which was traditionally peppered with acts featuring animals doing human things.

There, for a few quarters, you could see rats riding cats around racetracks, dancing elephants, boxing kangaroos, juggling sea lions and monkeys displaying an array of talents.

smithsonianillustrationDon the Talking Dog — proclaimed “the canine phenomenon of the century” — took things a step further. He, or so his name implied, talked.

Only in German, of course. But with a heavy population of German immigrants at the time in New York City, he became a major hit.

He had already garnered attention in Europe by then, with a vocabulary that reached eight words.

His first word was haben (“have” in English), followed by his own name, the word kuchen (cake or biscuit), ja and nein, ruhe (rest) and hunger (which is the same in both languages).

Generally, he didn’t speak in sentences, just one word at a time, and only when prompted by his trainer.

Don arrived in the U.S. in 1912 at the invitation of the vaudeville impresario William Hammerstein.

“Don will sail on the Kronprinz Wilhelm next Wednesday,” the New York Times noted. “A special cabin has been engaged in order to insure his safety.”

When Don’s ship docked, he was greeted by reporters, though they were disappointed not to get any good quotes.

Don stayed in the U.S for the next two years, making appearances in New York and around the country, once performing on the same bill as escape artist Harry Houdini. He then toured the country, performing in Boston, San Francisco, and other cities.

His act consisted of answering a series of questions served up by his regular straight man and interpreter, a vaudeville veteran known as Loney Haskell. Haskell became so attached to Don, according to news reports at that, “that in one-night stands he slept in the dog’s kennel.”

The journal Science, party poopers even back then, didn’t quite buy his act: “The speech of Don is … to be regarded properly as the production of sounds which produce illusions in the hearer.”

screen_shot_2018-04-20_at_45805_pmDespite his dubious skills and limited vocabulary, Don became a pioneering celebrity endorser, for Milk-Bone dog biscuits.

After two years in the U.S., Don retired and returned to his homeland. Haskell once calculated that their stage performances paid Don $92 per word, the equivalent of about $2,300 a word today. He died at home, near Dresden, Germany, in late 1915.

Smithsonian reported, “His last words, if any, seem to have gone unrecorded.”

Other “talking” dogs would follow, including Rolf, a German-born terrier who supposedly communicated by a form of Morse code, and was able to add and subtract, and Queen, who was described as “positively the only dog in the world that speaks the English language.”

Fast forward 100 years and we still have folks making those claims — dog owners, scientists, and entrepreneurs, each group with probably a few hucksters among them, who claim to be on the verge of a device that translates dog to human.

Take them as you would the dogs speaking in this compilation (none of whom can say compilation, by the way) — with a grain of salt.

(Illustrations: Smithsonian Magazine)

Another example of how humans and dogs are becoming more alike: our poop


It’s never really looked at it in its entirety, as one phenomenon, but how alike dogs and humans are — and keep becoming — continues to astound scientists around the globe.

Compassion? Both species seem to have it. Cognition? Dogs are quite capable of that, perhaps even exceeding us in certain areas. The diseases and disorders we get? Pretty much the same.

Not too many people look at the forest — at what all this, cobbled together, might mean — but scientists from particular disciplines, locked in a lab with a narrow focus, keep discovering new similarities, such as this latest one, deep in our intestines.

The microorganisms that live in dog’s intestines are more similar to the microbes inside us than to those in other animals, says a new study published in the journal Microbiome.

The dog microbiome “has some of the same species [of bacteria] as the human’s,” said lead author Luis Pedro Coelhos, “but different strains.”

The researchers were surprised because they expected that dogs would share only a few strains of bacteria with their owners. Instead, their intestinal flora could be cousins, says a summary of the study in Popular Science.

The study was not really about those similarities; it was aimed at better understanding canine weight loss.

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Nestlé Purina Research worked with a sample of 32 beagles and 32 Labrador retrievers. Half of the members of each breed were overweight, while the other half were a healthy weight. For four weeks, they fed all of the dogs the same diet of Purina.

Then, they collected poop and conducted DNA analyses as they further altered the diets of the dogs.

They found the leaner dogs’ microbiomes changed much less than that of the overweight dogs. The findings, they say, gave then a baseline for how a healthy dog microbiome should behave, and suggested dogs may be better subjects for research into human weight loss than other species that have been used for that purpose.

Jack Gilbert, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Microbiome Center who does research for Purina but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science the study was significant for what it showed about the similarities between the guts of dogs and our own.

“You can control a dog’s diet much more than you can do a human’s,” says Gilbert. The same is true for pigs and mice, but the fact that dogs have such a similar microbiomes to humans means that studying their response to certain diets could produce the best results.

The cause of the similarities isn’t entirely understood, but the study pointed out, “Dogs were domesticated early in modern human history and frequently shared food resources with humans.”

Over time, their digestive systems might have grown even more like our’s, and their obesity rates have come to mirror that of humans.

Further proof that we don’t just like each other, we are like each other — and in ways that continue to be discovered, as we sit around learning, bonding, loving, overeating and growing fat together, becoming, more and more, reflections of each other.

(Photo: Digital Vision/Getty)

Barbara Bush stood for much, dogs included

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Barbara Bush was remembered over the weekend as a kind, strong and loyal matriarch whose advocacy for various causes touched the lives of many.

Among those were the lives of dogs — her own family’s and others, including the hundreds of thousands who have visited the dog park that bears the name of her former dog, Millie.

Mrs. Bush wrote two children’s books that featured her own family dogs.

millliesbook“Millie’s Book,” published in 1992, describes a day in the life of President George H.W. Bush and family, through their dogs eyes, including daily morning briefings, time spent in the Oval Office, and breaks in the yard to chase squirrels.

The book hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

“C. Fred’s Story,” published in 1984, detailed their Cocker Spaniel’s life as the sidekick of then-Vice President Bush.

Both books raised money towards Bush’s top human cause, literacy, with “Millie’s Book” raising over $1.1 million.

More than 1,000 mourners gathered in Texas Saturday to attend the funeral of the former first lady at the Bushes’ family church in Houston.

She had been fighting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.

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In 2003, Harris County opened a state of the art dog park in Houston in honor of the former first lady’s English Springer Spaniel, Millie.

Millie and Mrs. Bush are said to have been the inspiration for the park, the first to open in the county. It went on to serve as a model and inspiration for other dog parks. Millie died in Kennebunkport, Maine, on May 19, 1997 at the age of about 11.

Houston locals remember Mrs. Bush as “a kind of straight-talking grandmother to the city, an approachable first lady out for a stroll in the sunshine, so genuinely earthbound that she herself picked up after her dogs at the park,” the New York Times reported.

More photos of Mrs. Bush and the Bush dogs can be seen in this PEOPLE magazine report on the former first lady’s passion for dogs.

(Photos: At top, the First Lady and Millie on the grounds of the White House in 1989, by Diana Walker; at bottom, Millie and the Lady in a 1990 photo, Associated Press)

USDA considers closer regulation of rescues


A Washington Post investigation that revealed 86 rescue and dog-advocacy groups and shelters nationwide have spent $2.68 million buying dogs from breeders at auctions has prompted the U.S. Agriculture Department to issue a bulletin stating that those groups may need to be licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Traditionally, they are not, and thereby operate independently of any federal regulations — even though they are, in effect, buying and selling dogs all while characterizing that work as “rescuing” and finding dogs adoptive homes.

“Our job is to ensure the humane treatment of the animals we regulate,” Deputy Administrator Bernadette Juarez, who leads the department’s animal-care program, said in the bulletin, which cited “dog acquisitions from an auction for resale (including adoption) as pets” as a reason that individuals or groups may require federal regulation.

SONY DSCThe USDA announcement came just days after the Washington Post investigation was published, triggering a public response that the Post reported on yesterday.

The initial report cited cases of bidders aligned with rescue organizations paying more than $1,000 per dog, in one case $8,000.

Altogether, the 86 rescue and advocacy groups and shelters that have registered to participate in the two government-regulated auctions, both in Missouri, have spent $2.68 million buying 5,761 dogs and puppies from breeders since 2009.

Most rescuers then offered the dogs for adoption as “rescued” or “saved,” and charge “adoption fees” that range from $50 to $1,000.

National animal welfare groups reacted to the report with differing levels of concern.

The Humane Society of the United States — which in March sued the USDA, claiming it has failed to release breeding-kennel inspection reports in violation of open-records law — said the agency should instead do a better job of regulating breeders.

“BREAKING: the USDA is planning to scrutinize pet rescue groups and require many of them to become licensed — even as it fails to crack down on puppy mills and covers up their inspection reports,” the Humane Society posted on the Facebook page of its Puppy Mills Campaign.

“This is not rescue; this is enabling abuse,” wrote Julie Castle, chief development, marketing and communications officer for the Best Friends Animal Society. “Buying puppies from puppy mill breeders and selling them to the public is not rescue. It’s the pet trade and it needs to be exposed.”

PETA said some rescuers are “propping up the dog-breeding industry. Handing thousands of dollars to the very people who are exacerbating the animal-homelessness crisis allows them to keep profiting from animals’ suffering.”

Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, urged a USDA investigation of the practice: “Federal regulators should require all organizations that operate as pet dealers under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) be licensed as such.”

While some in the breeding community cheered the USDA’s bulletin and said regulation of rescuers by the USDA was long overdue, others voicing an opinion said the federal government should leave rescuers alone and instead focus on what they call “puppy mills.”

“I will never donate to a rescue that buys dogs from an auction,” said one. “That article was an eye opener. I have never heard of such a thing, but will definitely check out the rescue I support to see if they do this. The rescues who do this should be closed down. The money spent to buy the dogs was astronomical and insane.”

Other animal lovers say rescuers are well-intentioned and above reproach:

“Why you would go out of your way to bash people for trying to help innocent animals is disgusting and idiotic!”

The Post’s investigation detailed the little-known business practice in which some rescue groups — mostly those dedicated to rescuing certain purebred breeds — buy dogs from breeders at auctions, then charge “adoption fees” to place them in new homes.

The rescue groups say buying auction dogs is necessary to remove them from the commercial breeding industry, while others said the practice just feeds money to the very breeders that rescuers often decry as puppy mills.

Nathan Winograd, founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center, which pushes for shelter overhauls, urged all sides to step out of what he called their ‘ideological straitjackets’ and instead take a reasoned approach to considering the facts.

Wrote one commenter, “I’m an executive director of a fairly large humane society in the South. . . . The premise of this story is that people are buying dogs at auction from breeders in an effort to ‘rescue’ them. This highlights the emotional problems you see in the rescue community, that blinds them to rational thought, or good judgment. If you think you are ‘rescuing’ dogs by buying them, in any way shape or form, you are in complete denial.”

The 86 rescue organizations named in the auction records reviewed by the Post are a tiny minority of the thousands of such organization in the U.S and Canada.

As one person commented on the Post article, “There are still a lot of dogs that need help, and a lot of good organizations trying to help them.”