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Tag: counting

It’s (almost) official: Dogs are about twice as smart as cats


A scientific study has shown that cats have an average of 250 million neurons in their brains while dogs have about 500 million, making dogs about twice as intelligent.

Before you cat lovers start objecting, keep in mind that the study was performed by humans, who average about 16 billion neurons per brain.

Scientist’s brains, we can only assume, have even more than that.

The study is the work of a team of researchers from six different universities in the U.S., Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa. It is expected to be published soon in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

The research wasn’t aimed at resolving the great national debate over which species is smarter, but was part of a larger effort to use neurons as one quantifiable measure of intelligence.

Previous research sought to quantify intelligence by measuring brain size and structural complexity. Counting neurons is generally accepted to be a more accurate measurement than those.

To accomplish that, study author Suzana Herculano-Houzel explained to National Geographic, “You take the brain and turn it into a soup.”

That leaves a number of nuclei suspended from neuron cells, allowing the researchers to estimate the number of neurons present. Neurons are a special type of nerve cell found in the brain that transmit messages.

The research team used only a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which drives decision-making and problem-solving.

“Neurons are the basic information processing units. The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is,” said Herculano-Houzel, a neurologist and professor at Vanderbilt University who has been studying cognitive function in humans and animals for the past decade.

The team used three brains — one from a cat, one from a golden retriever and one from a small mixed-breed dog.

In the dogs’ brains, despite varying in size, researchers found about 500 million neurons, more than double the 250 million found in the cat’s brain.

By comparison, orangutans and gorillas have about eight to nine billion neurons, while chimpanzees have about six to seven billion, elephants have about 5.6 billion.

Herculano-Houzel says counting neurons is a more effective measurement of intelligence than the size of an animal, or the size of its brains.

“It’s not a larger body that explains the number of neurons you have,” she said. “You can have animals with similar-sized brains, and they have completely different numbers of neurons.”

School crossing guards to help count dogs

The city of Schenectady is trying to get a handle on how many unlicensed dogs live there, and it’s calling on school crossing guards to help with the counting.

Crossing guards and code enforcement officers, who’ll be sweeping through neighborhoods this summer, anyway, looking for housing code violations, will be conducting Schenectady’s doggy census — aimed at getting a count of how many dogs are in the city.

The next step is making sure their owners have licensed them.

The city, in which only 1,400 dogs are licensed, suspects there could be ten times more that are unlicensed — as many as 15,000. With licenses costing up to $20, the sweep will easily pay for itself down the road.

The problem was getting the city council’s approval for spending $22,000 to hire people to go door to door, inquiring if homeowners have dogs, according to the Albany Times Union.

A surplus in the overtime budget for code enforcement officers and school crossing guards provided a way around that, allowing the city — without the council having to approve new spending — to turn interested crossing guards and code enforcement officers into temporary canine census takers.

City Clerk Chuck Thorne said the census, to be spread out over several summers, could easily lead to a doubling of dog licenses, which would bring in $36,000 to $40,000 in revenue, and that’s not even counting fines.

Licenses are $13.50 for a neutered or spayed dog and $20.50 for an unfixed dog. For seniors, rates are $3.50 for neutered dogs and $10.50 for unneutered. A valid rabies vaccination certificate is needed for a license.

The census takers will determine through interviews if a homeowner has dogs, how many, and whether they are licensed. If a person is not home and there are indications a dog is in the house — such as barking, or a yard strewn with rawhide chews — the census taker will leave a letter stating the person has 21 days to get a license or face a possible ticket.

(Photo: Mayor Gary McCarthy announcing plans to reduce crime, get homes up to code and crack down on unlicensed dogs in Schenectady; by Skip Dickstein / Times Union)

N.J. Township counts dogs door to door

dogcensusState law in New Jersey mandates that local governments count their canine residents, but John Fries, in suburban Haddon Township, is one of only a handful of local government employees doing it.

Under a law that dates to the 1950s, when rabies was a threat to household pets, New Jersey towns are required to conduct the census every two years. But as the rabies threat declined, so has the number of municipalities following the little-known regulation, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In 1980, 91 percent of towns submitted canvases to the state; in 2008, only 32 percent did so, according to health department records.

Some towns say they have better things to do.

“Chesilhurst has so many other problems, the last thing we’re concerned about is a dog census,” Michael Blunt, the mayor of the community near the Pine Barrens said. “The minute you start giving people tickets, you bring hell on yourself.”

Under state rules, if a resident is found to have an unlicensed dog, the town can send out a bill for the license with the threat of a fine for nonpayment.

Fries, clipboard in hand, began his task in October, and expects to finish surveying Haddon Township homes by the end of January.

Requiring owners to license their dogs is the policy in most U.S. cities and towns. But the taking of a door-to-door “dog census” seems unique to New Jersey, the Inquirer reports. In the minority of towns that participate, the census has led to an increase in dog-licensing revenues.

(Philadelphia Inquirer photo by April Saul)