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Tag: adapting

How some dogs came to have floppy ears

It is generally accepted that most species, over time, adapt as the environment in which they live undergoes changes — to the point that their bodies physically alter.

Charles Darwin wrote about it 150 years ago, raising questions about why the once perky, upright ears of certain animals — namely wolves — had evolved to become, often, with domesticated dogs, floppy.

It was subsequently named “domestication syndrome” — the process by which domesticated mammals come to possess heritable traits not seen in their wild progenitors.

But why it happens is still theorized about.

My own theory (and bear in mind, it is coming from a former ape) is that, with dogs, once they started living with humans they no longer needed those alert and upright ears to detect threats; that, just maybe, they found what they more needed was a way to muffle human noise, as that species can be pretty damn loud. So, over time, their ears evolved from being pointy antenna-like sensors to sound-muffling flaps.

Basset hounds and bloodhounds, for example, clearly do not want to hear a single word we have to say.

How, then, would my theory explain the many breeds of dogs that still have pointy ears? Simple: Those are the ones who want to hear everything humans say, most likely because they don’t entirely trust us. (This also explains why cats still have pointy ears.)

As the video above shows, my theory is probably wrong.

It’s from the NPR science show Skunk Bear — which is very good at simplifying science for the increasing number of humans whose attention spans are shortening to the point they require cartoons to understand something.

Cartoons are especially helpful when the explanation involved includes words like “neural crest cells” and “postmigratory embryonic interactions”.

Basically, the latest thinking is that it is a deficiency of neural crest cells — which affect everything from adrenalin to ear cartilage — that is behind the change in appearance in domesticated species.

As Darwin noted, 150 years ago, numerous species with erect ears had become droopy eared after domestication, including “cats in China, horses in parts of Russia, sheep in Italy and elsewhere, the guinea-pig in Germany, goats and cattle in India, rabbits, pigs and dogs in all long-civilized countries.”

All, with domestication, were experiencing a form of erectile dysfunction. Thanks, humans.

“The incapacity to erect the ears,” Darwin concluded, “is certainly in some manner the result of domestication.”

A century later, experiments in the Soviet Union proved Darwin was right on target.

Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyayev took 130 foxes from fur farms and started a breeding program. He started with the tamest foxes and then bred their offspring again and again, always choosing the tamest.

After a few dozen generations, Belyayev’s foxes were totally tame, and becoming more and more floppy eared.

More recent research points to those neural crest cells as the factor.

Does this mean your pointy-eared dog is less tame than its floppy-eared counterpart?

I wouldn’t read that much into it. But I’m often wrong. I’m only human. Perhaps someday another cartoon will come along to give us the answer.

(Photos: John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

Cola gets his fizz back

A dog that had his legs hacked off in Thailand is making great strides on his continuing road to recovery.

Cola’s front legs were sliced off with a sword by a neighbor in Bangkok angry over the dog chewing his shoes.

He was later adopted by John Dalley and his wife, who run the Soi Dog Foundation.

He received his first set of prosthetics about a year ago, but recently was fitted with the types used by paralympic runners.

The Soi Dog Foundation, an animal welfare group based on the resort island of Phuket, brought in a human surgeon to fit Cola with the high tech carbon fiber racing blades.

Now, Dalley reports, Cola is bounding on the beach with the rest of his pack, and he has no fear or distrust of humans despite what happened to him.

“It’s actually quite amazing how adaptable dogs are and how forgiving they are,” he said.

You can learn more about Cola’s inspirational recovery in this Reuters report.

“Kangaroo dog” draws crowds in Peru

A dog born without her front legs has learned to get around by hopping on her rear ones like a kangaroo — and she’s becoming a bit of a tourist attraction in Peru.

Estrella was abandoned on the street as a puppy, but taken in when she was six months old by a couple that runs an animal shelter in the small town of Tinga Maria, according to Reuters.

While many have asked to adopt her, Ivan Escobar and his wife Elva Carhuaz, who operate the shelter, say they plan to keep her.

The dog’s presence has led to an increase in visitors to the shelter, and more donations to help care for her and other dogs.

Elva Carhuaz said Estrella helps increase awareness about stray dogs and about dogs with disabilities.

Last day on the — ouch! — boat

As much as we’ve enjoyed life on a boat, both Ace and I will disembark with a few bumps and bruises.

Speaking just for myself, I think I’ve bumped almost every body part I have: head (four times), knees (three times), toes (two times), elbows (two times).

For Ace, I think it has been even tougher. He’s fine once he’s settled on the deck, or ensconced in the cabin on a cushion, but — being sneakerless — getting around on the boat’s slippery surface has been more difficult for him.

He has become adept at turning around in tight spaces, climbing up and down the ladder-like stairs to the cabin, and getting on and off the boat by crouching to fit under a railing and then leaping to the pier.

For the most part, he obeyed my commands to “stay on the boat!” when I ventured off to hit the bathroom or bar, but the other day was an exception.

The boat’s owner, Arnold Sherman, had come aboard. I had taken some photos of the boat’s interior and exterior, so he could use them in his attempts to sell my temporary home. After passing them on, we persuaded each other to go to Nick’s, where the boat is docked, for a beer and some of their happy hour, half-priced, fist-sized fried oysters.

“Stay on the boat!” I told Ace. The way the boat is tied, there’s a gap of one to three feet between it and the pier and, given the railing in the way, I worried he might end up in the water if he tried to get off when I wasn’t there — a bad thing because once one falls in the water, there aren’t a lot of ways out.

And at 130 pounds — him, that is — I’m relatively certain I wouldn’t be able to hoist him up.

Arnie and I had walked 100 yards down the pier, turned left and were headed to the gate when a dog head suddenly brushed up against Arnie’s leg. Ace, in total silence, had somehow managed to get off the boat, tippy toe up behind us and nonchalantly fall into step, with a look on his face that said, “Where we goin’, guys?”

I walked him back to the boat, put him in the cabin, gave him a mild reprimand and a pile of treats — mixed message, I know — and put a barrier at the top of the stairs.

Other than that defiant moment, he has adapted, once again, magnificently.

He loves walking along the pier, watching the birds, humans and other goings on, and sitting on the boat’s deck with his head draped over the side.

In the early evenings, he’ll climb up on the deck while I’m writing and position himself in a way he can see all that’s going on at the marina.

When he gets tired of that, or knows it’s almost dinner time, he’ll rearrange himself so he can peek through the entrance to the cabin, watching me — until dinner is served.

His only truly anxious moments were on Sept. 11 when the city saw fit — though it seems somehow wrong to me … a bit too festive and explosive — to have a fireworks display.

We sat in the cabin, his head on my lap, until it was over.

I’ve made sure to take him to nearby Riverside Park everyday, so he can enjoy some time on solid ground and sniff some grass, and yesterday — having some errands to attend to — I dropped him off for doggie day care at the Downtown Dog Resort & Spa, just around the corner.

Five hours later, I picked him up, along with his report card: “Ace was a little shy at first, not knowing any of the dogs. In the afternoon, he loosened up and played with Kallie (a Lab), Coby (a boxer) and Mocha (a pit mix) in the pool. He and Mr. Brown (his favorite playmate) seemed inseparable.”

From there we headed to Ace’s favorite bar, where he got his requisite human attention, and then some.

We stopped and picked up a cheesesteak and fries on the way back to the boat, and he bounded down the stairs to the cabin, not wanting to miss out on that.

As Ace sees it, home is where the cheesesteak is — no matter how cramped and slippery it (and by that I mean the home) might be.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Philadelphia — home of the cheesesteak, home, once, to me. After a couple of days there, we’ll move on to New York, in search of John Steinbeck’s Long Island home. There, in the backyard of a cottage in Sag Harbor, under a willow tree, Charley — the dog he toured America with — is buried.

That will be the starting point for the next few months of our journey, in which we plan to retrace, at least partially, the route Steinbeck and Charley took — starting with three ferry rides to Connecticut, then heading up to the northernmost tip of Maine, then moving west.

You can stay on the boat, or come on along.

Company for Christmas: The pack breaks up

DSC07533

 
I’m thankful for my Christmas packages, but I’m more grateful yet for my Christmas pack.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I volunteered to take in three canine guests over the holidays — all dogs of friends who were leaving town.

There was Darcy, the high-energy Boston terrier; Cheyenne, the blind Labrador who, ironically, was bred to be a seeing eye dog; and, just for Christmas day, Lucas, a big plodding, vocal, yellow Lab who, I guess because of the combination of his gruff exterior and his underlying sweetness, always reminds me of Lou Grant in the old TV show.

They all joined my dog Ace and I over the holidays. After the first chaotic day, I questioned my sanity. On the second day, things calmed down. By day three we’d become a well-oiled machine, having learned each others’ ways. We became synchronized, as pet and person do over time.

Perhaps the best example was on our walks to the park. The first trip resulted in a tangle of leashes, with one dog — the smallest one, of course — tugging me all the way, resulting in me not paying enough attention to the blind one so she could avoid bumping into trash cans, all while my own dog Ace added to the tangle by veering off to pee on every tree.

Once at the park, Darcy, the Boston terrier, not liking the cold and the snow so much, would hop up on every park bench and sit down, as if to say, “You guys go ahead, I’ll just wait here.”

Sensing she wasn’t the rugged outdoors type, I started taking Darcy along only on about every third park trip, leaving Ace and Cheyenne to work things out between them. It was an amazing thing to watch.  After a few trips Cheyenne took to walking directly alongside Ace, using him as a guide and buffer. By listening to the click clack of his claws on the cement, she was able to trot alongside, correcting herself when she would gently veer into him.

Ace seemed to realize he had a new job — instead of peeing on every tree, it was to serve as Cheyenne’s assistant, as a guide dog to the dog who was supposed to be a guide dog. And Cheyenne seemed to trust him fully, or at least more than she did me after I —  not paying attention — allowed her to walk into a stair rail. When that happened, though, she’d just back up, adjust and carry on.

Feeding time, complicated at first, became a breeze as well. Darcy would eat in the crate, and Ace and Cheyenne seemed content to stick with their own bowls. Since Cheyenne only eats once a day, she generally got a carrot — her favorite treat — in the evening.

DSC07751Cheyenne, noting I spend entirely too much time at the computer, took to curling up between my feet at the base of my desk, allowing her to keep track of me and get some rest and me to keep my feet warm.

Darcy, who kept things lively, underwent a vast improvement in her toileting habits after the first two days  — partly due, I think, to my sphincter-sealing yell, partly because I insisted she go outside frequently — and we mostly avoided further accidents. Darcy and Ace continued to play the paw in mouth game — until Ace would get bored and go upstairs to be alone.

I’d try to give them each 30 minutes of individual attention a day, be it snuggling or wrestling. When I’d go upstairs to give Ace his time, and find him in the bed, I’d join him, and we’d generally fall asleep.

It was inspiring to me how well Ace handled the visitors — not a snarl or whine the whole week. To me, that’s the most impressive thing about dogs — how well they adjust, Cheyenne being a prime example of that. We adjust, too; we’re just not as good at it as dogs.

Now I need to adjust to my pack leaving. Today it shrinks to two dogs, with Cheyenne’s return home. And tomorrow Darcy will depart.

I expect, once we’re alone, Ace and I will both heave a big sigh — and it will only partly be one of relief.

(To read all of the Company for Christmas series, click here.)

Company for Christmas: Part One

cheyenne

 
My first Christmas guest has arrived and, after bumping into everything there is to bump into, has made herself right at home.

Cheyenne, raised to be a guide dog for the blind, never got to fulfill that role. The possibility that she was going to develop hip problems prevented her from going on with her training. The hip problems never came to be, but Cheyenne, now 11, started going blind herself at age 5.

As dogs will do, she has adapted magnificently.

She walks slowly and gingerly, high-stepping when in unfamiliar surroundings. When she bonks her head on something, she backs up and heads in a new direction. Outdoors, when we come to a curb, I, as instructed, say “step,” and she seeks it out with her paw and steps up. aceandchy

I have her for the week, while her owners visit family down south, and it has been amazing to watch her as she adjusts to new surroundings. Equally amazing has been watching how gracious my dog Ace has been — sharing the couch (it’s his favorite spot, too); not raising a stink when she walks over, into and even under him; and helping herd her in from the two feet of snow in the backyard when she loses her bearings.

On their first trip to the yard, Ace ran circles around and did that downward dog stance dogs do. Cheyenne just sat there, not knowing Ace was sending the play signal. Since then Ace has caught on, I think, to the fact that she’s blind. He’s extra careful around her, and acting like a big brother.

Cheyenne, who loves carrots and lettuce, will be with me through Christmas, and two more canine house guests are still to arrive. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes. My prediction: The couch is going to get pretty crowded.

(To read all of the “Company for Christmas” series, click here.)

Dog who chewed off legs gets prosthetics

Andre, a dog who was forced to chew off two of his legs to escape an illegal trap in Alaska, was equipped with two prosthetic limbs this week in Denver.

Andre was rescued last winter when a woman saw him dragging himself across a country road, leaving a trail of blood behind. Though he’s a large mixed breed, he weighed only 38 pounds. Since then, Alaska Dog and Puppy Rescue has been caring for him.

On Wednesday, the surgery to attach the prosthetics was completed. Now, he begins the process of learning to walk on all fours again, though he had managed to learn to get around on two.

“Andre is just like a bicycle. If he’s moving he has balance and can keep upright. As soon as he slows down, he has to lean against something or sit down,” says Martin Kaufmann of OrthoPets, who fitted Andre with his new legs.

“Right now he has to learn to figure out he can touch the ground with his back leg and front leg. And he actually has to learn there is a leg to use again,” Kaufmann told Fox News in Denver.

Kaufmann created the artificial limbs using plastic, foam and bicycle tires.

“Use your legs,” he told Andre as they tested out the devices in a parking lot.

Andre arrived in Denver last week and was taken to OrthoPets on Monday to begin what was a three- day process, according to the Denver Post.

Denver’s American Humane Association contributed $2,000 to Alaska Dog and Puppy Rescue to put towards Andre’s medical bills. Orthopets and the woman that found Andre are footing the rest of the bill.