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Tag: dna

To be or not to be — a pit bull

diggy3

Whether Diggy is to be or not to be a pit bull will be decided by a judge.

The dog whose smiling face went viral — and led local officials to label him a pit bull and order him to leave town — is going to get his day in court.

Since we last reported on the case, Diggy has been proclaimed an American bulldog by a local veterinarian, but Waterford Township officials apparently didn’t buy the vet’s pronouncement.

Diggy is a pit bull, they say, based on how he looks — and those are banned in the Michigan township, under its dangerous dog ordinance.

Because Diggy’s owner, Dan Tillery, was cited by local authorities for having a pit bull, the final disposition of the case will be left up to the court.

It’s all a tremendous waste of time — first and foremost because pit bull bans are ill-conceived and just don’t work. On top of that, pit bull isn’t a breed at all. On top of that, a judge is likely to be even worse at determining breed than animal control officials, police, shelters, rescues and even veterinarians are, which is pretty bad to begin with.

And on top of all those things, does either side really want to know?

If they did, you’d think they’d have conducted a DNA test by now.

diggy4Tillery, a musician, adopted the dog from Harper Woods-based Detroit Dog Rescue earlier this month and posted a photo of Diggy and himself that went viral and was shared by news outlets nationwide.

The media coverage led the Waterford Police Department to drop by a few days later, take a look at Diggy, proclaim him a pit bull, and tell his owner that he had three days to get the dog out of town.

The dog had been listed as an American bulldog when he was in Detroit’s city animal shelter. He was pulled from there by Detroit Dog Rescue, which, in at least one Facebook post, labeled him an American bulldog-pit bull mix. On the official adoption papers, though, Detroit Dog Rescue listed him as American bulldog.

After the police department’s ultimatum, Tillery had the dog assessed by a local veterinarian who judged him to be American bulldog — though he apparently did so without conducting a DNA test.

That wasn’t good enough for local authorities, who, though they relaxed that three days to get out of town part, are still insisting Diggy is a pit bull and must leave.

Tillery met Monday with Waterford Township officials, and posted on his Facebook page that the prosecutor was sticking to the decision to have Diggy removed from the community.

A hearing was scheduled for Aug. 11, at 2 p.m. in Waterford’s 51st District Court.

“My lawyer and I are going to do everything possible to make sure Diggy stays in his home with us, his family,” Tillery said in the post. “Thanks for all of your support, guys. I’m not a quitter.”

diggyWaterford Township Prosecutor Margaret Scott said that the township will now simply wait to allow the court to determine whether Diggy falls within the ban.

“We’re not going in and removing the dog, we’re not destroying the dog — it is a pending violation,” she told the Oakland Press.

Tillery and his dog have seen an outpouring of support from dog lovers and those opposed to Waterford’s breed-specific legislation. More than 50 supporters showed up at a Waterford Board of Trustees meeting to ask officials to remove the dangerous dog ordinance from its books.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition asking the town to lift the ban.

Strangely, amid all the debate and national news coverage, DNA testing hasn’t been mentioned. If Tillery has pursued it, he’s staying quiet about it.

While some of the companies offering DNA tests — via blood samples or cheek swabs — skip around the pit bull question, a few of the tests do identify the breeds commonly associated with pit bulls.

certOne even offers a “pit bull exemption certificate” in cases where a dog is determined to be made up of 87 percent or more of non-pit bull breeds.

That may or not impress Waterford officials, or the judge, as such tests aren’t conclusive.

It’s still a possibility — that one side, or the other, or the judge, could pursue having the test done.

It would at least add some factual material to all the guesswork going on, at least a little foundation for the strident and unending Internet debate that is mostly — much like pit bull bans themselves — sound and fury, signifying nothing.

(Photos of Diggy by Dan Tillery)

World’s first in vitro puppies born at Cornell

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Ten years after a dog was first successfully cloned, scientists have managed to produce the world’s first litter of pups to be born through in vitro fertilization.

In July seven puppies were born through IVF at Cornell University — five beagles and two “bockers,” or beagle-cocker spaniel mixes.

The achievement was not revealed until this week with the release of the research study.

Seems like science would have happened the other way around — that a “test-tube” puppy would have premiered long before we entered the even more science fiction-like era of cloned dogs becoming available on the marketplace.

But, while IVF has been used for decades in other animals, including humans, scientists had never succeeded in using it to produce a newborn pup.

Previous attempts to use IVF in dogs had resulted in very low rates of fertilization, and no live births at all once IVF embryos were transferred to a host.

“Since the mid-1970s, people have been trying to do [IVF] in a dog and have been unsuccessful,” said co-author Alex Travis, associate professor of reproductive biology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health in Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

What made it so difficult were some of the same factors that proved challenging in cloning dogs — females only ovulate once or twice a year, and their eggs are not transparent, making it harder to see the structures inside of the egg.

The Cornell researchers, in a joint project with researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, found that by waiting an extra day for eggs to mature before extracting them, they met with more success.

Adding magnesium to the environment where the sperm and egg met also helped with fertilization, the team found, according to a Cornell press release.

The achievement was revealed this week in a study published online Dec. 9 in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.

The seven surviving puppies (out of 19 embryos) are genetically the offspring of two different fathers (a cocker spaniel and a beagle) and three different beagle mothers, carried by the same beagle surrogate.

Unlike cloning, which involves transferring an existing (or dead) dog’s DNA into a donor egg, IVF involves the creation of a new genome through fertilization. Each each animal has a unique set of DNA.

The researchers say the development will open the door for preserving endangered canid species using assisted reproduction techniques.

It could also enable researchers to eradicate heritable diseases in dogs and facilitate the study of genetic diseases in dogs and humans, they say.

(Photo: Cornell graduate student Jennifer Nagashima and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute research biologist Nucharin Songsasen — lead author and co-author of the study — walk some of the puppies born through IVF; by Jeffrey MacMillan / Cornell University)

China creates “Super Dog” via gene editing

editeddogsFirst, scientists in South Korea brought us dog cloning — a chance, or so it was initially described, to use cells from your sick, dying or even dead dog to create the exact same dog again, in healthy puppy form.

It was a bad idea.

Now, scientists in China are hard at work on an equally worrisome one.

Chinese researchers report they have created a beagle with double the amount of muscle mass, through a process called “gene editing.”

Gene editing involves injecting embryos with a DNA snipping enzyme, Cas9, and a guide molecule that zeroes in on a particular stretch of DNA. The goal is to knock out the myostatin gene so a dog’s body can not produce any of the muscle-inhibiting protein that the gene manufactures.

The result, as they see it, is a Super Dog — useful to the police and military.

This is hardly the first time man has manipulated the species. We’ve been doing it for centuries by inbreeding them to create dogs that, while not necessarily healthier — and sometimes quite the opposite — better suit our needs and please our eyes.

But gene editing is, right up there with cloning, one of the more blatant, creepy and invasive routes man has taken.

And it prompts us to say, with more emotion than a scientist can probably understand: Dogs are already super, China. So leave them the hell alone.

To create one “super beagle,” the researchers injected more than 60 dog embryos. Less than half survived to birth. Of 27 puppies born, only two had the sought after disruption in their myostatin genes.

And in only one was the gene editing considered “complete,” said Liangxue Lai, a researcher at the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health.

Custom made, genetically engineered dogs will have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” Lai is quoted as saying in the MIT Technology Review

Lai and 28 colleagues reported their results last week in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, saying they intend to create dogs with other DNA mutations, including ones that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy to be used in biomedical research.

South Korea’s dog cloners, in addition to cloning dogs for bereaved pet owners, are also creating dogs for the police and military, and dogs with diseases for research purposes.

Lai said his group had no plans breed to breed the extra-muscular beagles as pets. But, as the Review article points out, that wouldn’t stop others from moving to commercialize the gene-editing process.

A different Chinese Institute, BGI, said in September it had begun selling miniature pigs, created via gene editing, for $1,600 each as novelty pets.

And if gene editing follows the path of dog cloning, now available to dog owners for $100,000, its transition to marketplace will be swift an unregulated.

In addition to pigs, goats, rabbits, rats and monkeys have been engineered using gene editing in China, which considers the efforts a national scientific priority — much like South Korea did with dog cloning.

Lai’s team says the sole male dog they successfully produced, named Hercules, would pass the myostatin mutation on if he were to be bred.

“The favorable traits that result from gene editing can pass generation by generation,” says Lai.

“Favorable,” in this case, meaning what the researchers hoped for.

For the 33 embryos that didn’t survive, and perhaps for those that did, we’d hardly consider it favorable, or even necessary.

No dog lover should.

Edit your papers, scientists — not our dogs.

(Photo: Hercules, at left, and Tiangou, the world’s first gene-edited dogs, from MIT Technology Review)

And now, the downside of doggy DNA tests

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The board of a ritzy Manhattan co-op is requiring some residents undergo testing of their blood and spit to determine if they are pure enough — and of the proper type — to live there.

As of last month, dog owners living in the luxury tower at 170 West End Avenue must have their veterinarian sign off on the canine’s pedigree and, if the pet is a mix, detail the percentage of each breed, according to DNAInfo.com

The policy is designed to purge the building of any pedigrees the board deems troublesome.

And the board deems many breeds troublesome — 27 in all, including the Pomeranian and the Maltese.

Residents were informed of the new policy a few months ago.

The board policy says the 27 breeeds were chosen based on “documented information regarding their tendency towards aggressiveness.”

In the case of mixed breed dogs, the co-op board is requiring owners to have their pet undergo a DNA test. If the test shows a dog to be made up of more than 50 percent of one of the outlawed breeds, it will have to leave the building.

Initially, they wanted to require mandatory DNA testing of all dogs, but they amended the policy to require the testing “at the board’s discretion.”

The latest version of the policy, issued on May 26, says that if a dog’s breed is unknown “the board at its sole discretion may require a resident to perform DNA testing.”

The 484-unit, 42-story cooperative is one of eight buildings that comprise Lincoln Towers, a 20-acre property near Lincoln Center managed by FirstService Residential. Each building has its own co-op board and makes its own policies.

The board policy also requires that residents register their dog and provide a mugshot of the canine.

The list of banned breeds includes St. Bernards and German shepherds, pit bulls, basset hounds — and even the tiny shih tzu.

“It’s like dog racism essentially,” one resident said of the new policy. “It’s beyond offensive, it’s intrusive.”

(Photo: From NYcurbed.com)

Does pinpointing breeds speed up adoption?

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In hopes that potential adopters will find a “Chiratoodle” or a “golden Chinscher” more appealing than a plain old mutt or “Chihuahua mix,” an animal shelter in California has begun DNA testing some of its dogs to determine their breeds and market them under more exotic names.

The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA in Burlingame, south of San Francisco, says initial results show the DNA tested dogs are getting adopted twice as fast.

Not too surprising in a world that prefers labels over mysteries — at least when it comes to what we bring into our homes.

DNA testing is not widely practiced by America’s animal shelters, mainly because of its expense. As a result, most people who adopt a dog from a shelter leave with a mystery mutt, or one whose heritage has been guessed at by shelter staff.

My dog Ace, for instance, when he was adopted nearly 10 years ago, was listed as a “hound mix” on his shelter paperwork, referred to as a “shepherd mix” by shelter staff and listed on Petfinder.com as a “Labrador mix.”

When DNA tests came on the market in 2007, I purchased one, swabbed his cheek and learned he was Rottweiler and Chow. In the next few years, as the tests became capable of identifying more than the original 38 breeds, I tested him two more times. The second test determined he was Rottweiler, Chow and Akita. The third test showed him to be all of those, and a little bit pit bull.

The tests allowed me to answer the question I was asked at least once a day: “What kind of dog is that?” It wasn’t so much that I had to know. All three tests were done mostly as research, for the purpose of writing about them. And once I learned the breeds he was made up of, I kind of missed the mystery.

I don’t think the information is all that vital, but I can understand how a purchaser, or adopter, of a dog might like to know what’s in his or her mix.

In California, the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA conducted the tests in an attempt to increase the adoptions of Chihuahua mixes, which make up nearly a quarter the dogs in its shelter.

The campaign, conducted under the slogan “Who’s Your Daddy?” is aimed at “finding great homes for dogs at risk of being overlooked,” said Scott Delucchi, the shelter’s senior vice president.

“People love mutts. Still, we’re betting shelter dogs with DNA results included, for free, will be quite fetching,” he says in a commercial for the campaign.

The shelter picks up the cost of the $50 tests, which they say can help owners identify what breed-specific traits the dogs might exhibit. The tests also allow the shelter to have some fun coming up with clever breed names — like “Chorgi” (Chiuahua-corgi), “golden Chinscher”  (golden retriever-miniature pinscher-Chihuahua) and “Chiratoodle” (Chihuahua-rat terrier-poodle).

In February, the shelter conducted tests that determined the breed make up of 11 small dogs. All found homes within two weeks — twice as fast as any 11 untested small, brown dogs in the previous months, according to an Associated Press story.

Twelve more dogs have been tested since then and once they are all placed in homes the shelter plans to test 24 more.

Chihuahuas have replaced pit bulls as the most prevalent breed in the shelter, largely due to the “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” movies, and the breed’s popularity among celebrities.

While some visitors to the shelter are seeking Chihuahuas, others are looking for mutts — small dogs who, thanks to another breed being in the mix, might have a less nervous dispositions.

While shelter officials have proclaimed the new program a success, they note that it’s going to take more than a gimmick to reduce the “alarming” number of Chihuahua mixes coming in.

“Another part is making spay-neuter low-cost or free to the community,” Delucchi said. The shelter also exports some of its smaller dogs to shelters in Florida, New York and other states where they are in shorter supply.

(Photo: Lynn and Tony Mazzola, with Lily, their newly adopted  “Chorkie;” by Eric Risberg / AP)

Another Ace doppelganger surfaces

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From time to time, about once every couple of years, I hear from a reader who thinks their dog looks just like mine.

That’s my dog Ace above — one of a kind, I like to think, but a mix of four breeds according to repeated DNA testing conducted after I adopted him from a Baltimore animal shelter nearly 10 years ago.

And, no, one of them isn’t German shepherd, though that is the most common guess.

The guessing is one of the joys of mutt ownership, along with the fact that — unlike with, say, Golden retrievers — running into an exact replica of your dog is something you tend to get excited about.

bobby1So, naturally, when May Tayar in Florida stumbled across Ace on the Internet, and saw how much he resembled his mystery mutt, he got pretty excited.

Tayar, who lives in Florida, had assumed his dog Bobby (left), adopted from an animal shelter in Miami, was a German shepherd mix. After reading about Ace’s heritage, now he’s not so sure.

“Bobby looks exactly like Ace,” Max wrote me earlier this month in an email, with three Bobby photos attached.

“We always wondered what mix of breeds he is,” Tayar said of Bobby. “He sometimes looks like a German shepherd, but when he’s standing next to a real one he looks nothing like him. Also Bobby’s tail is clipped so we don’t know what his tail would have looked like.”

Whether Bobby’s tail would have curled up into a question mark, like Ace’s does when he’s in a good mood (we thank the Akita for that), will never be known.

While Bobby doesn’t have Ace’s tail, he has something Ace doesn’t have — pointy ears, or at least sometimes pointy ears. Not until I got to the third photo were they shown in the full upright position, suggesting to me that Bobby, unlike Ace, may have some shepherd in him.

bobby2

After reading about Ace’s origins on ohmidog!, Max is now convinced Bobby, like Ace, is a Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull mix. (Despite the bad reputation those breeds have, I generally share that information with everyone — except maybe landlords and insurers — because he shows how undeserved those reputations are.)

“We’ve been thinking about Ace a lot,” wrote Max, who owns Assara, a laser hair removal business in Manhattan. “… Every time Bobby’s ears go down and he gets a certain look on his face we call him Ace to see if he reacts.”

laikaNo sooner did I write the above then I came across, online, another Ace lookalike — really more of a Bobby lookalike, but with even bigger ears.

I was checking out the blog Puppy Leaks (I think you’d like it) when I saw a photo of Laika. That’s her to the left.

I went to the Puppy Leaks Facebook page, and sent a message to the blog’s author, Jen Gabbard, asking her if she knew what breeds were in Laika, and if it would be OK if I included Laika in this post as well, promising to poke only the gentlest fun at her highly impressive ears.

Laika, according to DNA tests Gabbard had conducted, is a mix of German shepherd, Rottweiler and pit bull.

Of course, what breeds are in a dog doesn’t define a dog — nor does the size of its ears.

It’s all relative. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and maybe even more so in the eye of the owner. Though some have pointed out they think Ace’s floppy ears are disproportionately small for his body, I’ve always seen them as just perfect.

I’m sure Max sees Bobby, and Jen sees Laika, the same way.

And the funny thing is, we’re all right.

(Photos: At top, Ace, by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!; second and third photos, Bobby, courtesy of Max Tayar; at bottom, Laika, courtesy of Jen Gabbard / Puppy Leaks)

The DNA results are in on Pig

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They say everything has a beginning, a middle and an end, but when it comes to an Alabama dog named Pig, she seems to have gotten short-changed on that middle part.

Between her sizable head and her rear end, there’s not much real estate, and as a result of her abbreviated torso, taking her out in public has always led to a lot of stares, and a lot of questions — chief among them, “What kind of dog is that?”

What accounts for Pig’s unusual appearance is called short spine syndrome, a birth defect that prevents the spine from fully forming and often makes everyday tasks — like running, jumping and eating — difficult.

Dogs with the disorder — though it can compress their organs and lead to health problems as they grow — generally can lead normal lives, and reach their full life expectancy.

They can also, as in Pig’s case, become international celebrities.

Pig developed a large following after appearing at this year’s Do Dah Day festival in Birmingham. She was featured in a story on AL.com, and her Facebook page, “Pig the Unusual Dog,” created in June, has more than 76,500 followers.

pig2Now, following up on just what it is that makes Pig Pig, AL.com reports that her owner, Kim Dillenbeck of Helena, has received the results of a DNA test she had conducted on the dog to determine what breeds are in her.

A Wisdom Panel test says Pig is a Boxer, Chow Chow, American Staffordshire Terrier mix.

Dillenbeck who has heard guesses ranging from her dog being half rabbit to half not there, was surprised by the results.

“Everybody thought Akita,” Dillenbeck said. “I was was thinking something like a smaller dog, but I was wide open … Pig has all these interesting traits, and there are so many breeds out there.”

Other breeds showing up in the test results as possibilities include Portuguese Water Dog, Alaskan Klee Kai, Scottish deerhound, Lakeland terrier and Maltese.

Pig weighs in at just 16 pounds, much less than one of her siblings, who doesn’t have the disorder and weighs just under 40 pounds.

Dillenbeck’s experience with Pig led her to form the nonprofit Pig’s Foundation to help raise funds for people and organizations rescuing animals. Another mission of the foundation is to raise awareness that animals who look unusual can still have a happy life.

“Pig is her own breed,” Dillenbeck said. “To me, she is just one in a million. As much as I can see her potential in all these breeds, she is still just Pig.”

(Photos: Mark Almond / AL.com)