Whether its lowering our blood pressure, upping our oxytocin (that hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy), or keeping us sane (no small task), you can bet there’s a study underway at some university somewhere seeking to unravel — and dryly present to us — more hard evidence of yet another previously mysterious way that dogs enhance our well-being.
Given that, it’s a nice change of pace to plunge into a more anecdotal account — one that looks at the near magical mental health benefits one woman reaped through her dog, and does so with candor and humor, as opposed to sappiness.
“Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself” is a book that shows, far better than any scientific study, just how valuable — no, make that priceless — the human-dog bond is.
The memoir spans a year in the life of the author, Julie Barton, starting when, just one year out of college and living in Manhattan, she had what we used to call a “nervous breakdown.”
A barely coherent phone call from her kitchen floor brought her mother racing to her side from Ohio to take her home.
Barton was diagnosed with major depression — one that didn’t seem to lift, despite the best efforts of family, doctors, therapists and the pharmaceutical industry. She spent entire days in bed, refusing to get up.
Around the same time doctors started her on Zoloft, Barton told her mother she’d like to get a dog. Her mother thought that was a great idea. A few weeks later, they were bringing home a golden retriever pup. Barton named him Bunker.
On that first night, Bunker started whimpering in his crate, and Barton crawled inside with him:
“It occurred to me as I gently stroked his side that this was the first time in recent memory that I was reassuring another living thing. And, miraculously, I knew in that moment that I was more than capable of caring for him. I felt enormously driven to create a space for Bunker that felt safe, free of all worry, fear and anxiety. For the first time in a long time, I felt as if I had a purpose.”
Barton’s depression didn’t lift overnight; it never does. But, as the artfully written story unravels, Bunker gives Barton the confidence she needs to start a new life on her own in Seattle.
The are plenty of bumps ahead, and more than a few tests, but, given we’re recommending you read it for yourself, we won’t divulge them here.
Or you can wait for the next scientific study that comes along, proclaiming — in heartless, soulless prose — to prove one way or another what we already know:
Dogs are good for the heart and soul.
Posted by John Woestendiek August 24th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, benefits, bond, book, books, books on dogs, bunker, dog books, dog medicine, golden retriever, health, humans, julie barton, memoir, mental health, nurture, nurturin, pets, reading, rescue, science, studies, thinkpiece publishing
Can we go ahead and bury the robot dog, once and for all?
It was an inane idea from the get go — thinking that Americans or people from any other reasonable country would want a pet with batteries.
The robot dog is the antithesis of dog — a soul-less collection of moving metal parts that, while it may obey your every command; while it may not pee, poop, drool or shed; while it might even make you laugh; isn’t ever going to lead to any sort of real bond.
I suspect the same is true as well of those who came up with and developed the idea.
A robot dog is to dog what a light bulb is to the sun.
Turn it on, turn it off. You might be seeing a harsh and glaring light, but you are not seeing “the” light. Only dogs can provide that.
It’s not surprising that robot dogs are burning out.
It is surprising that an Australian researcher recently suggested that robotic dogs could begin replacing real dogs as pets in the world’s largest cities in as little as 35 years.
Jean-Loup Rault, writing in the journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, says burgeoning populations in big cities won’t leave much room for man’s best friend in the future — and he predicts that living, breathing dogs will disappear as digital technologies “revolutionize” the human-animal relationship.
Rault is wrong, and here’s why.
True, robots are on the rise. We will increasingly rely on them, or something close, to wash our dishes, vacuum our floors and do all those other tasks that take up time we could spend online, or, better yet, actually living life.
But we will never really connect with them — not even sex robots.
Anyone who does, probably should see a psychiatrist or, if they only want to pretend someone is listening to them, a robot psychiatrist.
Even in a world increasingly falling in love with material things, and increasingly falling in love with technology, and increasingly finding its social life on the Internet, the rise and fall of the robot dog shows us that — even when we can predict and control something’s every move, and put it in the closet when we tire of it — a mechanical canine just can’t compete with the real thing.
Dogs — though technology has messed with them (always with bad results) — are the antidote, I think, to technological overload. They are the cure. They keep life real. They lead to real bonds, real emotions, happiness and pain.
Overall, they soothe us, while technology often does the opposite.
Anyone who thinks a robot dog is going to lower their blood pressure, as dogs do, provide eye contact that stirs the soul, or be comforting to play with or pet is caught up in self-delusion.
What is hoped for by companies that make such devices, or provide us with Internet-based fantasies, or come up with ideas like pet rocks and the Tamagotchie, is that we all find self-delusion a happier place to be, and stay there, and spend our money there.
Production ended eight years ago, and the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year.
Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, and by 2006 had only sold 150,000 “units.” according to the New York Times.
Given it was not providing much profit, the company decided to put Aibo down.
Despite that, and the failure of many of the robotic/digital pets that preceded and followed it, Jean-Loup Rault, on the faculty at the Animal Welfare Science Centre at the University of Melbourne, suspects they have a future.
“Pet ownership in its current form is likely unsustainable in a growing, urbanized population. Digital technologies have quickly revolutionized human communication and social relationships,” he says.
“We are possibly witnessing the dawn of a new era, the digital revolution with likely effects on pet ownership, similar to the industrial revolution which replaced animal power for petrol and electrical engines.”
He points to the popularity, or at least former popularity, of devices like the Tamagotchie, and Paro, a robotic baby seal used by medical professionals, and Aibo, which never really became popular at all. He points to games and apps that allow people to keep fake farm animals. He points to the movie, “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his computer’s operating system.
“Robots can without doubt trigger human emotions,” he concludes, perhaps a little too quickly.
“The pace of artificial pet development, and underlying research, remains in its infancy with much to be discovered,” he notes. “At present, artificial pets can be described as mediocre substitutes for live counterparts. Yet, quick technological progress is to be expected …”
He concludes with a quote from Nikola Tesla: “Let the future tell the truth.”
I, for one, am not willing to do that. I don’t trust the future one bit, or those who are trying to take us there too quickly — and at the expense of what is pure and real and true.
Much more than the future, I put my trust, and faith, in dog. Real dog.
Posted by John Woestendiek June 22nd, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aibo, animals, bond, delusion, digital, dog, dog-human, dogs, emotions, future, internet, Jean-Loup Rault, ownership, pet, pets, reality, relationships, robot, robotics, social, society, sony, technology, truth, virtual
Denali is a short film, but definitely not a “little” one.
Documenting the bond between a nomadic photographer and his dog, it is beautiful and sweeping, both in its photography and in what it says about the human soul, the dog soul, and that “team soul” that often forms when dog and person are thrown together.
Ben Moon and Denali came together in 1999, when he and his girlfriend adopted the dog from a shelter. After breaking up with the girlfriend, Moon and Denali hit the road, traveling around the Pacific Northwest as Moon photographed surfers, rock climbers and other adventurers.
In 2004, Moon was diagnosed with cancer. While in the hospital for surgery and, later, long chemotherapy sessions, nurses permitted Denali to be in the room — and you get the impression neither of them would have allowed it any other way.
Moon beat the cancer, and the pair hit the road again.
More than a few times, in the years that followed, Denali was featured in Moon’s published photography.
In 2014, Denali, at the age of 14, was diagnosed with cancer.
One month later, he was gone.
In Denali’s last weeks, Moon began compiling what would turn into the movie, Denali — his tribute to the dog he’d traveled with, over peaks and valleys both literal and figurative, for nearly 15 years.
A collaboration between Moon, director Ben Knight, and cinematographer Skip Armstrong, the film premiered at 5Point Film Festival, winning both Best of Festival and People’s Choice.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and I highly recommend viewing it on your full screen. And given it’s a work aimed at exploring emotions — not tugging at them — you may also watch it with a fully open heart.
It shows us how resilient humans can be, how resilient dogs can be, and how that resiliency — and the joy of life — can reach even greater heights when dog and human bond.
In his eulogy for Denali, Moon noted that, painful as losing him was, it was a time to celebrate.
“…However difficult the transition, it’s cause for reflection and a celebration of how much love and joy this incredible dog brought into my life.
“Thank you Denali for giving me the courage to hit the road with a camera, a van, and no plan back in 2001, for never taking your eye off me through a year of cancer treatments, surgeries and countless other challenges. Thank you for your uncanny ability to walk into a frame at precisely the right moment to elevate an image, for teaching me patience and the joy in the simple quiet moments as I watched you grow older, and most of all, giving selflessly the unconditional love that only a true friend can give. It’s impossible to put into words all that you were and will always be to me — I was always convinced you were more human than dog, and all of the countless lives you touched felt the same.
“Thank you for your unwavering belief in me, happy trails my friend!”
Posted by John Woestendiek June 12th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: adventure, animals, ben moon, bond, cancer, celebration, death, denali, documentary, dog, dogs, film, friends, friendship, movie, pets, photographer, photography, tribute
If you’re going to be a stray dog, you might want to be one in Oak Brook, Ill.
It’s one of Chicago’s wealthiest suburbs — the kind of place with well-manicured lawns to pee on, porches and gazebos offering some shade, and handouts from humans that might include pork tenderloin, or steak.
At least that was Rusty’s experience.
For four years, Rusty roamed the Forest Glen neighborhood of Oak Brook, keeping a certain distance from its residents, but happily accepting their offers of food.
“I would leave pieces of steak and pork tenderloin at the end of the driveway,” said one Forest Glen resident.
“We thought we were the only people taking care of him,” said another, who fed him steak and bacon.
Harry Peters, president of the Forest Glen Homeowners Association, said Rusty, a chow-sheltie mix, eventually developed some discriminating tastes: “I put a hot dog out there once — I’ll never forget it — and he lifted his leg and peed on it. My neighbor was giving him steak.”
Despite all the handouts, Rusty kept his distance. He’d play with neighborhood dogs, but avoided getting too close to humans. When residents walked their dogs, Rusty would follow behind — again at a distance.
While residents were enjoying his presence, and fattening him up, many of them worried about how he was able to survive the harsh winters, and able to avoid becoming a victim of street traffic.
For four years, any attempts to catch him were in vain, up until 2010 when he was captured in a back yard and turned over to the Hinsdale Humane Society.
There he was treated for a heartworm infestation, and thousands of dollars were donated to help pay for his care. Attempts were made to make him more sociable with humans, so that he could be adopted out to one of the many expressing interest in doing so.
But Rusty, who maintained a preference for living outside, never reached that point, shelter officials told the Chicago Tribune.
Instead he was sent to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, where he’d have room to roam.
Before taking him to Utah, Jennifer Vlazny, operations manager for the humane society, brought Rusty back to the neighborhood he once roamed for one last visit. Residents petted him and photographed him, and some cried when he left.
After some time at Best Friends, Rusty was adopted by a Kanab resident, Kristine Kowal, a retired school nurse who once lived in the Chicago area.
Kowal made a Facebook page and posted regular updates on it about Rusty, by then renamed Rusty Redd.
Peters, the neighborhood association president, visited Rusty and Kowal in January, while on a business trip to Las Vegas. He mentioned to Kowal then that, if she was to ever come to Chicago for a visit, he’d arrange a gathering so residents could have a reunion with the dog.
That happened this past weekend.
Kowal drove Rusty 1,800 miles from Utah for the reunion.
“I just thought it was something that I needed to do — to take him back, and kind of make it a full circle,” Kowal said.
Residents gathered Sunday in a gazebo in the Forest Glen subdivision, where they were able to pet him, many for the first time.
Vlazny, the Tribune reported, was amazed at his transformation from feral dog to pet.
Rusty seemed to remember the old neighborhood, and residents — even some who had since moved out of state — came to the reunion to see an old friend.
“The closest Rusty would ever get to me was 40 feet,” said Frank Manas, feeding the dog a chunk of mozzarella cheese. His family had moved from Forest Glen to Wisconsin, but returned Sunday to see Rusty.
“We said, if Rusty can come all the way from Utah, we can come from Eau Claire,” said Julie Manas, his wife.
“Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh — I’m petting him!” said Julie Gleason, who used to feed Rusty when he visited the nearby office park where she works.
“It’s a real-life fairy tale.”
(Photo: Julie Gleason weeps as she pets Rusty; by Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 20th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, best friends animal society, bond, bonding, chicago, chow, dog, dogs, food, forest glen, handouts, hinsdale humane society, illinois, kindness, mix, mutt, mutts, neighborhood, oak brook, pets, reunion, rusty, rusty redd, sheltie, steak, stray dog, strays
Most of us have probably tried a version of this at home — be it with the fake tennis ball toss, the hidden treat or the imitation door knock.
How easily, and how many times in a row, can we fool the dog?
For some reason — maybe to test their intelligence, more likely because of the puckish tendencies of our own species — we seem to like to prank our pets.
Even many of your more admirable dog owners aren’t above punking their pugs, confusing their corgis, tricking their terriers or discombobulating their dachshunds.
My dog Ace has fallen victim to most of them. I’ve rapped against the wall to make him think someone’s at the front door. I’ve pretended to throw sticks and balls and hidden them behind my back as he gives chase. (This may explain why he’s not great at fetch). And, in perhaps the cruelest torment of all, I’ve made him think I’m holding a treat in one of my hands, holding out two closed fists and letting him pick one, then the other, only to find both are empty.
With each, he quickly caught on to the fact he was being played, and, despite my attempts to continue teasing him, moved on to something more interesting than me — like a shrub, or a rock, or the couch.
Dogs, due to their trusting nature, can be pretty easily fooled the first time. But you’re not likely to fool them with the same trick more than once or twice, according to a new study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.
Thirty four dogs were involved in the study, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan. One at a time, they were taken to a room where a researcher pointed to where food was hidden in a container. All the dogs followed the cue and got the treat. The second time around, the researchers pointed to an empty container, and all the dogs followed the cue , only to be disappointed.
The third time around, when the researcher again pointed to a full container of food, hardly any of the dogs bought it.
When a new experimenter came in to try again, the dogs initially trusted him — at least until he duped them, too. (Thank you, dogs, for not judging our entire species based on the acts of one.)
The leader of the team that conducted the study, Akiko Takaoka, says its findings suggests dogs are pretty good at determining how reliable an individual human is.
“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans” she told BBC. Dogs understand what it means when a human points at something. If a dog’s owner points in the direction of a ball, stick or food, the dog will run and explore the location the person is pointing to.
But Takaoka said she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.
I wonder if the results might have been different if dog owners — rather than strangers — were the ones trying to fool them. Would they, based on the bond they have with their owners, be a little more trusting, and follow the cues a few more times before giving up?
Maybe … assuming their owner hasn’t raised them with a steady diet of pranks.
Fun as they may be, they should probably be done in moderation, and not during puppyhood. And, when it comes to training, it’s probably best to avoid duping our dogs into doing what we want them to do — as in tricking him into a bath, or into the crate, or using the word “treat” to get him to come. Deception — with the possible exception of putting his pill in a shroud of cheese — shouldn’t be something we regularly practice to control our dog.
Dogs like things to be predictable, John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol notes in the BBC article, and not knowing what’s going to happen next can make them stressed, fearful or even aggressive.
“Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioral disorders,” he said.
Still, many of us (perhaps due to our own behavioral disorders) persist — even those who know fooling the dog runs counter to good training, and works against building a relationship of trust.
Why we’re that way might be equally worthy of a study. Why, long after the dog has lost interest and moved on to something else, do some of us humans continue to try and amuse ourselves by tricking them?
Maybe those people are scientists at heart, and want to test their dog’s cognitive abilities. Maybe they justify it by telling themselves — as I did when teasing my little brother — that it’s building character, or teaching our dog that life isn’t always fair. Maybe they’re trying to establish their dominance, or at least their feeling of mental superiority, or re-establish the fact they are in control. Maybe they have a tiny cruel streak.
More likely, they are just seeking a laugh, or feel the need to confirm how much their dogs trust them.
The occasional prank, I think, is OK, but pulling too many of them might be an indication we’re not worthy of that trust, leading it to erode, as maybe — based on the experiment in Japan — it is already.
Dogs are continuing to figure us humans out (no small task). They learn our schedules. They predict our actions. Apparently, they have also learned when, amid our trickery, to turn us off, in which case the joke just might be on us.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 4th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, bond, cognition, cues, deceiving, deception, dog, dogs, evolution, experiment, food, fool, fooling, fooling the dog, intelligence, pets, relationship, reliability, science, social, study, training, treats, tricking, tricking the dog, trust, trusting, university of kyoto
Nobody knows how Sissy did it, but we’d guess it was with her nose.
The miniature schnauzer ran away from home last Saturday, and showed up about four hours later and 20 blocks away — inside the Iowa hospital where her owner was recovering from cancer surgery.
Nancy Franck has been recovering at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids for two weeks, and apparently Sissy got tired of waiting for her to come home.
“She missed mom, that’s all I can tell you. She missed mom,” Franck said.
Hospital security snagged the dog after she entered through the automatic doors and began wandering through the lobby.
They called the number on Sissy’s ID tags and only then learned, from Franck’s husband, that Nancy was a patient in the hospital.
“I thought she just wanted to go someplace, but I didn’t know where. She’d never run away before,” said Dale Franck.
Hospital surveillance tapes show the dog entering, and making her way to the elevators, where — momentarily puzzled — she paused.
“She wanted to see her mom. She was on a mission, but she didn’t know which elevator to take,” Dale Franck told ABC 7 in Chicago.
Family members arrived at the hospital, and they were allowed to take Sissy to Nancy’s room for a visit.
According to the family, their home is about 15 to 20 blocks from the hospital. Sissy had never been there before, they said.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 13th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, bond, cedar rapids, dogs, finds, found, hospital, iowa, locates, mission, nancy franck, nose, owner, patient, pets, schnauzer, security, sissy, sniffs, surveillance
Out of work and out of money, Pete Buchmann could no longer pay his rent. So the Claymont, Del., man and his dog Buster moved to the back yard of a vacant home nearby and pitched a tent.
Even during the warmth of July, the novelty of that wore off pretty quick — perhaps quicker for Buster, who is nine and arthritic, than Pete, who is 54 and able-bodied.
“It was kind of fun for about a week,” Buchmann said, “but it wasn’t good for Buster.”
Buchmann moved to Delaware less than two years ago from Long Island, where he cared for an ailing mother and sister until their deaths. He got by on part-time jobs, but when even those ran out he was forced to sell his car, then give up his $800-a-month pet-friendly apartment.
Realizing life in a tent wasn’t going to be good for him or his dog, Buchmann asked police for the name of animal shelter where he could take Buster — and maybe get him back once he was on his feet and employed again.
He was given contact information for Faithful Friends Animal Society in Wilmington.
After leaving a couple of phone messages, and details on where he and Buster could be found, Buchmann received a visit from a shelter official.
“We drove out and found them,” Lou Henderson, manager of the shelter’s dog department told the Wilmington News Journal. ”We also took Pete a goodie bag with some food and things in it to help him.”
Buchmann said his goodbyes and Buster, a Rottweiler-boxer mix, was taken to the shelter.
But neither the story, nor Pete and Buster’s relationship, ended there.
While Buster is enjoying the hospitality of Faithful Friends, Buchmann is now residing (though not in a private room) at the Sunday Breakfast Mission.
And every day, he walks five miles to visit with and walk Buster.
He helps out with the shelter’s other dogs, too
“I am just amazed at his attitude,” Executive Director Jane Pierantozzi said. “He walks two-and-a-half miles each way every day to see Buster, and then he spends two or three hours helping us walk the dogs. Most people in his situation would be depressed and angry, but he isn’t.”
Pierantozzi says she has been so impressed with Buchmann, she’d hire him if the non-profit shelter had the money. Instead, she’s reaching out to her contacts in hopes of finding him a full-time job.
“Pete has been so resilient through all his trials,” she said. “It’s bad enough to lose your home, but to not know what’s going to happen to your pet is horrible. I just hope there are people out there that can help.”
While the organization commonly helps find new homes for pets surrendered by financially-pinched owners, Buster wasn’t adoption material.
“He’s old, he has arthritis, and he’s protective of and attached to Pete. Dogs like that can go down fast in a shelter. We knew if he went to a kill shelter he wouldn’t survive.”
Meanwhile, at the Sunday Breakfast Mission, Buchmann has been getting to know his fellow shelter dwellers — many of whom, like him, don’t fit the homeless person stereotype
“I don’t drink, and I don’t do drugs. There are a lot of very smart people living at the mission who are just down on their luck,” he said.
Buchmann said he’s grateful to be able to visit his dog, and looking forward to living together with him again.
“He’s my buddy; he’s been with me through everything,” he said. “He seems content here, and he knows now that I’m coming back, that he hasn’t been deserted.”
(Photos: Jennifer Corbett / The News Journal)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 21st, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bond, boxer, buster, buster and pete, delaware, dogs, faithful friends animal society, homeless, homelessness, humans, mix, no-kill, pete and buster, pete buchmann, pets, reunion, rottweiler, sunday breakfast mission, visits, walks, wilmington