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Tag: dna

Do we really need a “war” against dog poop?

In the annals of Gotham’s crimefighting superheroes, Abby Weissman might not go down as one of the all-time greatest.

But at least he will be noted for capturing a dog pooping on camera and, far more important, that doggie’s caretaker not picking it up.

Faster than a speeding bullet, he posted it on Facebook:

 

In the post, Weissman fires a first blow in his quest for justice, and calls upon others to join in fighting the scourge of canine caretakers who don’t pick up after their charges — by submitting photos and videos of scofflaws caught in the act to his block association’s Facebook page.

Weissman is president of the South Oxford Street Block Association in New York’s Fort Greene neighborhood.

The association started a “Dog Walkers Hall of Shame” campaign July 30, after his home security camera captured a dog walker, busy with her cell phone, walking away from the mess the dog had just deposited on the sidewalk in front of his house.

Weissman hopes a little public humiliation will be more effective than the seldom enforced “pooper scooper” law, and its $250 fines.

Since 2013, 63 “pooper scooper” violations have been issued in Brooklyn, DNAInfo reports. An officer must witness the incident to issue a summons, according to the Department of Sanitation.

Weissman, like any good superhero, seemed to take a great deal of pride in catching the scofflaw, at least on video. “We always wanted a photo or video or someone actually letting their dog shit and purposefully leaving it there. Here it is, thanks to Dropcam.”

I’m all for owners taking responsibility for what their dogs drop, and all for laws enforcing that. And I’m fine with fines.

I’m just not so sure we have to view it all in terms of a “war,” and I question whether all the high tech weapons being seized upon — like hidden cameras, and sending dog poop to laboratories to see if its DNA can be matched to a particular dog — are a bit of an over-reaction, better used on terrorists than people who don’t pick up dog poop.

I have a problem with public “shaming,” too — whether it’s being used on deadbeat dads, the customers of prostitutes, or those who fail to pick up dog waste. It reminds me of those stocks and pillories we used to punish wrongdoers in colonial times. I’d like to think we’ve become a little more civilized since then. And I’d like to think we’re smart enough to realize people who engage in shameful behavior often don’t have a huge sense of shame in the first place.

Most of all I’m puzzled about how we let something with such a simple solution become so huge, and gobble up so much time, money and technology. How much is being wasted sending dog waste through the mail for analysis in laboratories? How many hours did Weissman spend watching video to pinpoint the culprit who pooped in front of his house?

Sometimes I think our species is prone to escalating anything that can possibly escalated.

Perhaps a psychologist could explain that to me.

In the meantime, can’t we all just pick it up?

Fecal responsibility: Boulder looks at DNA testing to track down poop scofflaws

poopquestionBoulder City Councilwoman Mary Young wants to know how feasible it would be to require DNA samples from dogs, and create a registry so that, through DNA analysis, poop left on city trails could be traced to dog owners.

She’s not suggesting every dog in Boulder be tested (yet) — just the estimated 35,000 with so-called “green tags” that allow them to romp off-leash on some of the city’s trails and greenspaces.

Young has asked that the issue be discussed at tonight’s City Council meeting, the Boulder Daily Camera reports. (Yes, it happens to be an April Fools Day meeting, but nobody’s joking here.)

I would hope Boulder looks not just at whether it can be done (it can), but at whether it should be — that city leaders consider, in addition to the price tag of such a venture, the ethics and implications and utter goofiness of it.

There’s a lot of dog-related technology I don’t like (click the banner at the top of this page for one example) and poop-detection technology is near the top of the list.

Not just because of its Orwellian overtones, not just because it’s heavy-handed, dictatorial, silly, creepy, intrusive and expensive.  It’s also because technology, unleashed, has a habit of oozing beyond the boundaries of its originally intended purpose — DNA-testing of dog poop being just such a case — and spreading into ever scarier realms.

The day could still come when your tossed cigarette butt, un-recycled soda can or expectorated phlegm could be traced back to you, which, come to think of it, might be a better use of DNA technology than that being offered by the dog poop sleuths.

Declaring war on poop, and bringing out technology’s big guns, is overkill. Especially when the real solution can be achieved by simply bending over and picking up what your dog leaves behind.

In case you haven’t been following our posts on this issue, here’s how it works:

Deciding unscooped dog poop is simply intolerable, homeowners associations, apartment complexes or government entities sign up with a company called PooPrints, which sends them the supplies needed for residents to take swabs from the cheeks of their dogs. Those are sent to Tennessee, and a doggie DNA registry is created.

After that, any pile of poop that is found can be gathered, packaged and sent to a lab in Tennessee, where it can be unpackaged and tested and, by comparing DNA markers, matched to an individual dog, assuming that dog’s DNA is in the registry.

The company lets management know who the poopetrator was, and the owner is fined $100 or so — or, if a repeat offender, perhaps told they and/or their dog should move somewhere else. Thereby a community is made safe from scofflaws, as well as, say, a grandmother whose back might have been hurting too much one day to pick up every last dropping left by her Shih Tzu.

Here in my current home state, North Carolina, apartment complexes in Winston-Salem and Wilmington are among the growing number of property management companies and government entities turning to PooPrints.

Yes, dog poop can be hazardous to our health, and harmful to the environment.

So can the feces of all the non-domesticated animals we live among, but don’t feel compelled to prosecute for pooping.

danriversludgeSo, too, can the dumpage of corporate entities, like the thousands of tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River by Duke Energy, coating 70 miles of the river with toxic sludge.

That’s a little harder to pick up after, and, I’d suggest, at least as deserving of society’s consternation and oversight and vigilance as dog poop — even if punishing the culprit won’t make them change their ways. (Big companies, unlike the average dog owner, can hire lawyers to avoid fines, and, if unsuccessful, they just pass the costs along to their customers.)

Finding clean sources of energy — that’s a use of technology I like. Using DNA to solve murders  (and clear the wrongly convicted) seems a good use,  too.

But gathering, packaging and mailing dog poop so technicians in Tennessee can comb through it and test it, by comparison, seems a silly use of our technological muscles.

In Colorado, Boulder officials say dog waste on public trails is one of the most common complaints the city receives, so it’s not surprising that they’d turn to a company that claims to have the solution.

Eric Mayer, director of business development for BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tenn., said the company’s PooPrint service is used by private property management companies in 45 states and in Canada. Franchises are popping up all over, like Burger Kings.

So far, the company doesn’t have contracts with any municipalities, but officials have been in talks with a half dozen different local governments. He said he expects to sign the first municipal PooPrints contract with Ipswich, Mass., sometime this year.

Maybe, if poop detection continues to catch on, it would be good for the economy. Maybe, you too could have a fulfilling career as a dog poop laboratory technician.

But there are far better ways to spend our time and money, and far bigger problems more deserving of our rage. Between all the emotion, and all the technology, we seem to forget that we can simply …

Pick it up!

(Top photo, fake poop question mark, from Big Mouth Toys; bottom photo, sludge from the Dan River spill, courtesy of Dan River Basin Association)

Researchers unearth evidence of America’s earliest dog … and proof that it was eaten

A University of Maine graduate student says he has found a bone fragment from what he believes is the earliest domesticated dog ever found in the Americas — one that walked the continent 9,400 years ago.

And where he found it — ensconced in a dried-out sample of human waste — gives proof that eating dog was part of America’s culture, at least before America was America.

Graduate student Samuel Belknap III came across the fragment while analyzing a sample of human waste unearthed in  the 1970s. Carbon-dating placed the age of the bone at 9,400 years, and a DNA analysis confirmed it came from a dog — as opposed to a wolf, coyote or fox.

The Associated Press  reports that the fragment — which was the dark orange color characteristic of bone that has passed through the digestive track — was found in Hinds Cave in southwest Texas. 

The fragment provides the earliest evidence that dogs were eaten by humans in North America, and may have been bred as a food source, he said.

Belknap was studying the diet and nutrition of the people  in the Lower Pecos region of Texas between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago when he came across the bone.

Belknap and other researchers from the University of Maine and the University of Oklahoma’s molecular anthropology laboratories, where the DNA analysis was done, have written a paper on their findings, scheduled for publication in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology later this year.

The fragment is about six-tenths of an inch long and three- to four-tenths of an inch wide. Belknap said he and a fellow student identified the bone as a fragment from where the skull connects with the spine. He said it came from a dog that probably resembled the small short-haired dogs that were common among the Indians of the Great Plains.

Other archaeological findings have found evidence of domestic dogs in the U.S. as long as 8,000 years ago.

A 1980s study reported dog bones found at Danger Cave, Utah, were between 9,000 and 10,000 years old, but those dates were based on an analysis of the surrounding rock laters as opposed to carbon dating. In Idaho, researchers believed they’d found 11,000-year-old dog bones, but later tests showed them to be no more than 3,000 years old.

Worldwide, studies have found evidence of dogs going back 31,000 years from a site in Belgium, 26,000 years in the Czech Republic and 15,000 years in Siberia.

The earliest dogs in North America are believed to have come with the early settlers across the Bering land bridge from Asia.

Belknap said eating dogs was once common in Central America, and that some Great Plain Indian tribes ate dogs when food was scarce or for celebrations.

 ”It was definitely an accepted practice among many populations,” he said.

Nova’s “Dogs Decoded” airs tonight

The amazing and still evolving relationship between dogs and humans is the subject of “Dogs Decoded,” a NOVA episode that airs tonight.

The program looks at how dogs – domesticated for longer than any other animal on the planet — have come to understand us in a way other animals cannot, how they can read our emotions, how that relationhip evolved and where it might lead.

“Dogs Decoded” investigates new discoveries in genetics that are illuminating the origin of dogs — with revealing implications for the evolution of human culture as well. It visits Siberia, where the mystery of dogs’ domestication is being repeated in foxes. A 50-year-old breeding program is creating an entirely new kind of creature, a tame fox with some surprising similarities to man’s best friend.

The episode reveals the science behind the bond between humans and their dogs, and it spurs new questions about what this could mean for our rela­tionships with other animal species.

Among the questions the episode explores are why dogs bark, when their predecessors, wolves, didn’t, and whether it’s a behavior that evolved so they could communicate with humans; why a hormone that humans release at birth to bond mother to baby is also released when humans interact with dogs, bonding us not just emotionally, but biologically; what makes dogs able to understand social cues, like pointing, that other animals cannot; and what clues dog DNA might hold to understanding the genetic causes of certain diseases.

Where to next: In search of Chupacabra?


As we ponder where to go next on our road trip to nowhere, we’re feeling drawn to Texas — where two stories this week have piqued our curiosity.

First is the tale, told yesterday, of the Methodist pastor who’s calling for a stray dog hanging out behind his church to be shot, and the ire that has raised. Second are the two recent sightings — and subsequent terminations — of alleged Chupacabra, the legendary dog-like creatures who, according to myth, suck the blood of goats (which is what Chupacabra means in Spanish).

In the past week, two of the coyote-like creatures were spotted within 10 miles of each other, outside of Dallas, one of which was bagged by an animal control officer. The other was shot by a rancher. News reports seem to give no reason behind the shootings, other than the fact that the animals were “ugly.”

“All I know is, it wasn’t normal. It was ugly. Real ugly,” said Frank Hackett, the animal control officer who killed one of the creatures.

Reports of Chupacabra sightings are fairly rare; there’s one about about every year — including this one, where a law enforcement official followed and videotaped what he thought could have been one.

Of course, there are plenty of modern-day theories — ranging from them being pets left here by extraterrestrials to them being the result of government experiments gone awry. More often than not, though, they turn out to be coyotes with skin problems.

News reports say neither of the two slain creatures has been identified, though the DNA of at least one of them is being analyzed.

There is no documentation that the species or sub-species exists; instead the word ”Chupacabra” has become a catch-all term for anything dog-like, but not immediately identifiable, kind of like Bigfoot is for anything hairy, human-like and not immediately identifiable.

This won’t be the first alleged Chupacabra to have its DNA tested. In 2007, Texas State University biologist Mike Forstner performed a test on what turned out to be a coyote.

Another strong possibility, I’d suspect, is that some of the ”beasts” that have been spotted are actually Xoloitzcuintle, a Mexican hairless dog breed.

In any event, we’re headed east, and Dallas is on the way. If that’s where we end up, we’ll let you know what we find out.

Condo board dumps DNA poop proposal

The proposal to establish a DNA database of every dog who resides in Baltimore’s Scarlett Place Condominiums — all in hopes of figuring out who’s not picking up their dog’s poop — appears to have been dumped.

At a meeting of the condo’s board this week, the proposal was tabled and the decision was made to to pursue more “realistic and acceptable” alternatives.

While the meeting was closed to the public, a resident correspondent reports on the Baltimore Sun’s Unleashed blog that the board chairman said that other alternatives to finding the culprit would receive further study.

Under the proposal, every dog in Scarlett Place would have had to provide a DNA sample. Any unpicked-up poop found at the building would then be sent to an out of state laboratory for comparison. The owner of the dog linked to the poop would then face fines.

Unleashed author Jill Rosen wrote that, after breaking the story, she was originally invited to attend the meeting, but uninvited when the story developed legs, appearing in publications and on websites across the globe, thereby, in my view, bringing the luxury condominium the embarassment it deserved.

Richard Hopp, a Scarlett Place resident, reported to Unleashed that the condo board, in a standing room only meeting, ”tabled the proposal.” Not a single resident spoke in favor of it, he said, and the board member who came up with the idea wasn’t present.

“For what it is worth, my take on this is that the board members realized they had really ‘stepped in it’ with their doggy DNA proposal,” Hopp reported, “and in order to save face, they tabled the matter, rather than just vote it down and move on…”

Still more ado about poo

In a episode nearly as ludicrous as the case of the soiled condominium, an English great-grandmother was threatened with a £50 fine for picking up the wrong dog’s poop.

Pam Robson was accused by Sunderland Council wardens of failing to clean up after Derik, her Labrador, in a field in Houghton-le-Spring in January.

The council said the 60-year-old had picked up droppings that emanated from a different dog, according to the BBC.

How they knew that, I’m not sure, for Sunderland is not one of those jurisdictions that are performing DNA analysis on dog poop — a step that has been proposed at a condominium right here in Baltimore.

The board of the Scarlett Place Condominiums on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is considering a proposal to create a DNA database of its canine residents, then sending offending feces to a lab in an effort to find out exactly who, among their residents, is allowing their dog to poop in its ritzy hallways, and not picking it up.

Yes, everyone should pick up their dog’s waste — but going to such forensic lengths, and fining people for not picking up the right pile, are the actions of obsessive, power hungry control freaks who need to find better causes.

In Robson’s case, she refused to pay the fine and was threatened with court action.

Robson said she had been talking to her daughter on her cell phone when her dog ran off and did it’s doody. Robson walked over, scooped up a pile, and then was approached by two men (because policing poopers is apparently too dangerous a job to do alone).

“He said it was the wrong mess and that he was going to issue me with a fine for £50,” Robson recalled. “I picked up the other mess too and put it in the bag but he said I’d still be fined.”

“It felt like the worst kind of bullying,” she said.

Sunderland City Council, after she complained and asked for a review, later wrote to Robson, saying: “Officers at the time were satisfied that an offence had been committed. However it appears you may have collected faeces belonging to another dog.” In light of that, the note said, the council would not be pursuing the fine.