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Tag: age

Illinois bones said to be earliest evidence of domesticated dogs in America

ancient-dogleashes1

Three dogs unearthed at two burial sites In Illinois decades ago are older than originally thought, and likely date to 10,000 years ago.

That makes them the earliest known domesticated canines in the Americas.

Up until now, the nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines.

But radiocarbon dating of the Illinois dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Perri, who presented the paper April 13, said the bones also represent the earliest evidence of dogs being beloved by the humans they lived with.

The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves, Science News reported.

The buried bones also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, indicating that some dogs at least were held in high regard by ancient people in America.

Perri, of Durham University in England, said the absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried.

Some researchers have proposed that whoever made the first excursions into the Americas arrived on dog-powered sleds, but no ancient dog remains have been found in northwestern North America, where the earliest settlers crossing a land bridge from Asia would have entered the New World.

“As much as we want to believe that dogs initially pulled us into the New World, that may not have been the case,” Perri said.

Genetic evidence has suggested a second human migration from Asia to North America occurred around 11,500 years ago, with people trekking south through an ice-free corridor into the northern Great Plains. Those people likely brought dogs to the Americas, Perri said.

She and her colleagues studied three dogs excavated at two sites in west-central Illinois, one found in 1960, two others found in the 1970s.

(Photo: Society for American Archaeology)

Scientists learn about aging and memory by monitoring brain activity of sleeping dogs

Researchers in Hungary have found another good reason to let sleeping dogs lie — and maybe for us humans to get more sleep, too.

Both dogs and humans, they say, learn while they sleep.

The scientists placed wires on the head of 15 aging dogs to measure electrical activity in the brain while they sleep. The brain activity, called sleep spindles, has been linked with learning in humans.

The Hungarian scientists are studying how dog’s ability to learn and remember changes as they get older. They hope the study will lead to a better understanding of cognitive ability and memory changes in aging dogs and humans, Voice of America reported.

Ivaylo Iotchey, a neuroscience researcher, says the study represents the first time the sleep spindles of dogs have been measured.

“From studies with humans and rodents, we know that they are extremely useful markers both of memory and cognition but also of aging and activity,” he said. “In the dog, sleep spindles have only been described, they were never quantified, they were never related to function. This is the first time we were able to show that sleep spindles predict learning in the dog.”

The scientists have also found that female dogs, who have twice as many spindles, appear to be better at learning new things.

Senior Researcher Enikó Kubinyi said aging dogs suffer from the same problems as humans who are aging.

“Among very old dogs, up to two thirds of them show signs of dementia, and this dementia is really very similar in a lot of aspects to that of humans, so we could use dogs as a natural model of human aging.”

71-year-old woman and her Chihuahua survive six days in the wilderness

geerHere’s a recent real life story that deserves to be made into a movie.

It’s about a 71-year-old woman who hiked into Olympic National Park with only the Hawaiian shirt on her back, a cellphone, her sunglasses, and an urn containing her husband’s ashes.

Also at her side was her dog, a Chihuahua mix named Yoda.

After spreading the ashes, Sajean Geer and Yoda got lost, and they would spend the next six days trying to survive in the wilderness.

Of course, Hollywood would totally mess up the story, casting Reese Witherspoon in the role of Geer, and that Beverly Hills or Legally Blonde Chihuahua in the role of Yoda.

Either that or they’d go with someone even younger, say an Emma Stone or a Jennifer Lawrence, and recast Yoda as a golden retriever, and possibly throw a deranged stalker into the mix.

And in so doing they’d miss the point — one wise woman (not to mention still a babe, and in no need of being de-aged) who kept her wits about her, fashioned a shelter, ate bugs with her dog and managed to survive, in large part because of the books she read, the people she loved, and the experiences she had in seven decades of life.

And she didn’t even need a crossbow.

The Seattle Times told her story earlier this week, and it’s definitely worth reading.

On her 71st birthday, Geer set out to scatter half of her husband’s ashes near Obstruction Point in Olympic National Park in Washington.

Jack, her husband of 34 years, had died in December of a heart attack, and she’d promised to scatter his ashes there and along the Kona coast on the Big Island of Hawaii.

After spreading the ashes, she climbed a hill, hoping to get her bearings, took a fall, and dropped the urn. As dusk settled in, she realized she was lost and her cellphone was useless.

“All my outdoor experience has been hiking on trails with signs, and I hadn’t had experience in total wilderness like that. All I could see is trees. I couldn’t find anything to orient myself with,” she said.

She found a log to sleep beneath and curled up next to Yoda for the first of five nights she’s spend in the wilderness.

Geer spent the next day walking, but became no less lost.

“I did this to myself,” she recalled thinking. “I’m in a dire situation. I have a Hawaiian shirt, no jacket. I had no water bottle, no knife, nothing to start a fire.”

But she had read a lot of books about foraging and survival, and she knew — in addition to finding water and shelter — she needed to keep a positive attitude.

“You have to have something in your head, to keep you motivated and alive,” she said.

By the third day, Geer decided to stop walking, stay in one place and hope for a rescue.

geershelter

She fashioned a shelter near a creek where two logs converged, covering the top with tree branches, moss and bark to keep the cold out. When temperatures at night dropped to the mid-40s, she snuggled up with Yoda.

Geer scavenged currants for food and, after an ant bit her, realized that could work both ways.

“I go, ‘Well, I’ve got a bigger mouth than you,’ so I ate it.”

Yoda, despite being a pretty spoiled dog, adjusted to the wilderness too:
“He would sit on my lap and I had all these flies around me. He would gulp flies right out of the air,” she said.

By then, Geer’s brother, Jack Eng of Seattle, was coming to the realization that his sister was missing. Eng asked police to check on her. They found no trace of her at her Port Angeles home. Two days later, she was officially listed as missing.

On Sunday morning — six days after Geer had left for the park — Eng got word that a National Park ranger on patrol had spotted her vehicle. An air search ensued.

Geer heard a helicopter and climbed up on a log, waving her arms. Rescuers dropped Geer a note telling her to stay put and a few minutes later a rescuer appeared. Because of the rugged terrain, a Coast Guard helicopter was called to haul Geer and Yoda up in a basket.

She was thankful for the rescue efforts, but also gave herself some credit for being a self-reliant sort.

As a child, shortly after World War II, Geer and her family moved to the United States from China. She grew up in a hut in the back of the laundry business her dad owned. At school, she was ridiculed — both for being Asian and being a “tomboy.”

“I had a tough childhood. I learned to discipline myself and to have a positive attitude,” she said. “I was brought up to take care of myself.”

Getting lost in the wilderness taught her a little more.

“When you’re by yourself up in the wilderness with nobody to talk to except your dog, you learn a lot about yourself,” she said.

She said she felt her late husband’s presence in the woods — but at the same time came to terms with him not being around anymore.

“It’s time to let go and let your own light shine, and stand up,” she said she realized. “This situation forced me. I realized I had to be on my own and move on to my life.”

(Photos: At top, Geer; lower, the shelter she made from fallen trees, moss, bark and tree branches; courtesy of Jack S. Eng, via Seattle Times)

Tongue-dropping: Carrie Fisher (and her dog Gary) wake up Good Morning America

This may be the most entertaining bit of morning “news” show television I’ve seen in a long time.

I’d like to give all the credit to Gary, Carrie Fisher’s French bulldog, whose droopy-tongued, deadpan facade nearly steals the show.

But Fisher, on the show last week to promote the new Star Wars film, deserves some, too.

She’s absolutely hilarious.

Even easy-on-the-eyes Good Morning America anchor Amy Robach (sorry, but it’s a relevant point in this case) is tolerable, taking it in stride as Fisher chides her for being so young, thin and beautiful.

As Gary sat in a chair next to Fisher and watched — his tongue hanging out for the entire interview — the actress explained she leaped at the chance to recreate Princess Leia (now General Leia) in the new Star Wars film (The Force Awakens).

Then again, she added, actresses of her generation generally do jump when a role with some substance comes along.

“I’m a female in Hollywood over the age of let’s say 40 … or then we could also say 50 … You don’t have to be asked if you want to work at that age,” she told Robach. “You’ll see someday.”

“I’m over the age of 40,” Robach responded. “I hear ya.” Robach (and don’t we all want some of what she’s drinking?) is 42.

After viewing a snippet from her screen test with Harrison Ford for the original film, Fisher admitted she doesn’t like watching herself on the screen so much these days — but said that she has no problem viewing younger versions of herself.

“No, that’s ok, I’m 19, why wouldn’t I like that? You like it less as you roll along. I can’t say that to you, but people who are normal, who have other genes, they don’t like it as much … Not that you have an advantage with the DNA jackpot or anything.”

It wasn’t your typical star on TV promoting a new movie — but then again, just as Gary isn’t just a dog, Fisher’s not just a movie star.

She’s an author and screenwriter, and has been outspoken about her past drug problems and her mental health issues. In fact, she is pretty outspoken about everything. “I think in my mouth, so I don’t lie,” she told Robach.

Fisher joked that she brought Gary along because his tongue matched her sweater, and because he had screened the movie.

“The tongue wasn’t out of his mouth before he saw the movie … It will happen to everyone,” she said. “It’s worth it though. That’s how good it is. You won’t care that your tongue is out of your mouth like that.”

Gary, in addition to being her beloved pet, is actually a therapy dog who helps Fisher cope with her bipolar disorder.

You can keep up with him on Fisher’s Twitter page.

Dairy farmer says his dog is 30 years old, and, yes, that would be a record

maggie

He doesn’t have any paperwork to back it up, but a dairy farmer in Australia says his kelpie could, at almost 30, be the oldest dog in the world — ever.

Brian McLaren arrived at his dog’s age using this mathematic formula. His youngest son, Liam, was four years old when they bought Maggie as a young pup. Liam is 34 now.

Maggie — approaching nearly 300 in human years — may have lost a stop or two but she is still working as a guard dog on McLaren’s large dairy operation.

In fact, about 15 years ago, when McLaren moved to a house away from the farm, Maggie resisted the relocation.

“She stays there when I go home at night,” McLaren told the Weekly Times. “We moved to Koroit in 2000 and we took her with us, but she went off her head. She wanted to stay on the farm, so that’s where she stays.”

McLaren says he lost Maggie’s paperwork and can’t prove she has broken the record of what’s consider the longest living dog of all time — Bluey, an Australian cattle dog who died at age 29 in 1939.

Maggie sleeps in a bed in the farm office at night and comes out for the farm work when McLaren arrives early in the morning.

(Photo by Yuri Kouzmin / The Weekly Times)

Drones and droids and robot dogs, oh my!

The older I get the more wary I become of technology.

What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?

Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.

It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.

Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.

I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.

droneLast month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.

Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.

Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.

Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?

It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).

biigdogBoston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.

So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on “Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.

The Times reports:  “… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room —  no matter how sexy its voice — saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”

I’m not a total Luddite.

I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.

But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.

What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.

The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?

I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.

Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.

I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.

But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)

I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.

Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.

Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.

Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.

It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives — though it’s arguable — more convenient.

But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.

Roadside Encounters: Betty

Name: Betty

Breed: Boston terrier

Age: 14 years

Encountered: At Heart of Gold, a jewelry store in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Ace and I were sitting outside a coffee shop when suddenly I felt my seat start moving. I’d looped Ace’s leash over the back of my chair, and he moved it a full inch before I turned around to see what he was trying to get to.

It was a Boston terrier. She did her business in the pine needles and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.

Ace whimpered, insisting, it seemed, that we go find her. He pulled me into Heart of Gold, where the owner was packing up — going out of business after nine months.

Despite the situation, she was happy to talk about her greying old dog, Betty, who comes to work with her every day.

She got Betty as a pup in Florida, part of a litter sired by a pedigreed Boston terrier who went by the name Willie B. Cute.

Betty’s owner, who’s moving to Texas after the shop gets packed up,  happily agreed to me taking Betty’s picture, but — not wanting to be in any pictures herself — handed the dog off to her employee.

The result was a photo that captured — if I do say so myself — both the quiet dignity of old age and the joyful energy of youth.

After our quick photo session, Betty, who’s going deaf, was returned to the floor, where she immediately began scooting her butt across the carpet. She was scolded only mildly and continued scooting. That’s one of the things that comes with the dignity of old age — when you have an itch, you scratch it.

(Roadside Encounters are a regular feature of Travels with Ace. To see them all, click here.)