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Tag: changes

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!)

Changes vowed at Baltimore County shelter


Some long called for changes may be coming at Baltimore County’s animal shelter.

After more than a year of pressure by animal advocates for improvements, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced yesterday that  the shelter in Baldwin, Md., will be shifting from the “narrow view” of it being a place for dangerous animals and focusing more on caring for animals and getting them adopted.

That’s exactly the sort of change we called for in yesterday’s ohmidog! post — the one suggesting local governments ditch their use of the term “animal control” and become animal protection departments.

Baltimore County hasn’t announced any formal plans to do that (maybe it’s not too late to work that in), but the county executive did outline future steps to add more employees, expand low-cost spaying and neutering services, cooperate with a program aimed at neutering feral cats and increase the shelter’s focus on getting animals adopted.

Kevin KamenetzKamenetz said he’ll hire a volunteer coordinator and a foster care coordinator at the shelter – two areas animal advocates have been critical of. He also announced that  a new Facebook page will be set up devoted to promoting adoptable animals, and that the shelter will be receiving guidance from the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, commonly known as BARCS.

The changes will be included in his next budget for Animal Services — a division of the county health department — and would go into effect at the start of the next budget year on July 1, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“We think we’re moving in the proper direction in a deliberative manner,” Kamenetz said.

Animal advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland complained to the county last fall that shelter volunteers were banned from taking pictures, in violation of their First Amendment rights. The county has been working with the ACLU on training shelter employees on the rights of volunteers.

Earlier this month, the County Council passed a bill creating an animal services advisory commission to review the shelter’s operations. The 11-member commission has yet to be appointed.

In a statement released by the county executive’s office, Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins praised the proposals as “bold steps to upgrade animal services in Baltimore County.”

The county already is building a new shelter on its current site,  scheduled to open in August.

Our hope would be — in accordance with the proposal we put forth yesterday, and in accordance with the new focus Kamenetz spoke of — that the sign in front of it reads Animal Protection, or Animal Services …  anything but Animal Control.

(Photos: Protest sign from WJZ; Kamenetz from Baltimore Sun)

Supes say let dogs run in Golden Gate park

Let’s hear it for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

By a 10 to 1 vote, supervisors went on record opposing a federal proposal to restrict dogs in parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The National Park Service earlier this year proposed to “completely or significantly reduce” the off-leash areas in the recreation area to “strike a balance between park landscape, native wildlife and the 16 million visitors.”

The park service is considering mandating leashes in open spaces where dogs currently roam free and banning them entirely in some popular dog-walking areas.

Dog lovers responded to the proposal swiftly, labeling it “extreme environmentalism,” and even considered suing the federal government if the proposal passed, according to the website Curbed.

In early April, Supervisor Scott Weiner introduced a resolution in opposition to the proposed dog policies. This week, all but one of the supervisors voted for it — in part out of concern that restricting dogs on the federal park land could overburden city parks.

The National Park Service has proposed restricting dogs from San Francisco’s Crissy Field, Ocean Beach and Fort Funston, which are among the most popular places to take dogs in the city.

Federal officials are still taking public comment on the plan and expect to put new rules in place next year.

Officer who left 2 dogs to die in car is fined

A police dog handler in the UK has been found guilty of animal cruelty for leaving two German shepherds to die in the back of his car on one of the hottest days of last year.

Mark Johnson, of the Nottinghamshire police, was given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a fine. The judge called it “an extremely difficult case” which reflected poorly on the force’s attitude to officers with mental health problems.

Prosecutors said the animals – Jay-Jay and Jet – died in “excruciating pain” after Johnson ­forgot he had not taken them out of his vehicle on June 30. The dogs died – possibly within 20 minutes of being left in the car– from heatstroke, The Guardian reported

Johnson, 39, said he was severely depressed and was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder when he left the dogs in the car. He said his illness had caused him to forget that the animals were still in the car as he sat down to do paperwork at Nottinghamshire police’s headquarters.

District judge Tim Devas described the dogs’ deaths as “sad and regrettable”, but criticized the police department for failing to help an officer struggling with depression.

“I feel a police officer has been let down … (T)his is a dreadful error of judgment brought about by an illness way before it happened and PC Johnson should have been given more help … I cannot believe that in the 21st century, depression and men crying is so abhorrent to an institution that nothing can be done about it,” he said.

An assistant chief constable of the Nottinghamshire police said dog handlers must now take their animals directly to kennels on arrival at work and that a system was being piloted alerting handlers to temperature changes inside vehicles.

State parks may become dog-friendlier

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State parks would become more dog-friendly under a series of proposed policy changes being considered by the Maryland Park Service.

The proposals are now open to public comment, which you can do by clicking here.

To see the full list of changes, park by park, click here.

Under the proposed changes, dogs will be allowed on some of the trails, picnic areas, campgrounds and day use areas from which they were previously banned.

At Gunpowder Falls, for instance, the proposals call for pets being allowed year-round in Dogwood section of the Hammerman area, and in the entire Hammerman area from October 1 to April 30.

“The proposed pet policy changes were developed with consideration for the opinions and perspectives of park staff and visitors who have contacted us about this specific issue over the years,” the Park Service said. “We also reviewed pet policies employed by similar parks and recreational facilities in Maryland and in other states.

“As part of the overall policy, park managers will retain the discretion to prohibit pets from certain facilities within areas where pets are allowed (e.g. visitor centers, playgrounds). Service animals will still be allowed in all areas open to their owners. Current regulations requiring that all pets be leashed and owners clean up after their pets will remain in effect.”

The state is also accepting snail-mailed comments. Send them to:

Pet Policy Comments
Maryland Park Service
580 Taylor Ave., E-3
Annapolis, MD 21401

Public comments will be accepted until November 30, 2009.

Something for big dogs to celebrate

Weight limits — those arbitrary, ill-conceived, downright discriminatory restrictions on dogs at many otherwise “pet-friendly” hotels — have bitten the dust at one California boutique hotel chain.

Joie de Vivre, California’s largest boutique hotel collection, has done away with its weight limit for canine guests, according to Hotels magazine. It has also dropped its pet surcharge.

Joie de Vivre has  doubled the number of its hotels that allow pets in the past eight months. Of its 35 hotels, 15 are now dog-friendly.

“We wanted to make our pet-friendly hotels even more hospitable to dogs, so we scrapped weight restrictions and standard pet surcharges so that more of our guests can enjoy traveling with their pets,”  said Joie de Vivre founder and CEO Chip Conley.

In the Bay Area, the chain (it prefers the term “collection”) offers more dog-friendly hotels than any other hotel group, with ten in San Francisco, three in the East Bay and Marin County and one in Silicon Valley. In Southern California, the new Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach and Hotel Maya in Long Beach welcome dogs and their owners. A third boutique hotel in Southern California – the Pacific Edge Hotel on Laguna Beach – will join Joie de Vivre’s pet-friendly pack this fall.

Joie de Vivre’s pet-friendly hotels offer special amenities that include in-room dog beds, dog food, water bowls, toys, and even a doggie turndown service. Each hotel offers different amenities and some offer fee-based grooming or dog walking upon request.

For more information, visit www.jdvhotels.com.