Leave it to director Tim Burton to get across the point — in his characteristically gothic manner – that I’ve been trying to make for two years now:
You can’t bring your dead dog back to life, at least not without running into some trouble.
At least that’s a point I selfishly hope his new full-length, 3-D animated movie, “Frankenweenie,” will make when it comes out in October.
As the author of a book on the brave new world of dog cloning, and being generally opposed to the practice, I’ve got some confused feelings about Burton’s new movie, which comes out — unlike his 1984 short film of the same name – at a time when dogs, deceased and otherwise, are being “re-created” in South Korea.
Science has caught up with science fiction, it seems, and sometimes brings equally scary results.
In the movie, a boy named Victor, grieving the death of his beloved dog, Sparky, conducts a science experiment to bring him back to life “only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.”
Based on that summary, Burton’s new movie, like the classic work of literature upon which it is based, could have a few things in common with today’s reality, in which the cells of dead dogs are merged with egg cells from donor dogs, zapped with electricity and, after being implanted in surrogates, come to life. The going price is $100,000.
Do bereaved pet owners get the same dog — a reanimated version of their deceased one? Of course not. Do they think they are? Sometimes.
When I started researching “DOG, INC.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commercial Dog Cloning Industry,” the first book I read, or re-read, was “Frankenstein” — given all the parallels between that classic story and cloning.
Both featured grief, selfishness and laboratories, borrowing parts from one being to assemble another, and plenty of mistakes and deformities along the way. Both relied on a zap of electricity to spur things on. Both related to the stubborn refusal of humans to accept death, and the powerful drive, among some, to bring a being, or at least a semblance of it, back to life.
Burton’s new movie itself is a reanimation. “Frankenweenie” was originally a 30- minute short film. Now he’s done what he originally wanted to do — make it a full-length feature. Here’s the official synopsis:
From creative genius Tim Burton comes “Frankenweenie,” a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life—with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.
While much has been written about the making of the movie, and about the stars providing the voices — Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, among others — what message it delivers hasn’t been written about much. (Not that it must have one, or that it must be the one I’d like to see.)
The original short film — we’ve posted it here — was fantastical and charming. In it, the reanimated dog, though humans outside of his immediate family fear and misunderstand him, goes on to save Victor’s life and become beloved by all.
“The reason I originally wanted to make ‘Frankenweenie’ was based on growing up and loving horror movies,” Burton explains in the new movie’s press materials. “But it was also the relationship I had when I was a child with a certain dog that I had.”
“It’s a special relationship that you have in your life and very emotional,” he adds. “Dogs obviously don’t usually live as long as people, so therefore you experience the end of that relationship. So that, in combination with the Frankenstein story, just seemed to be a very powerful thing to me -— a very personal kind of remembrance.”
The original short film didn’t go into the folly and dangers of attempting to bring the dead back to life, and — being fictional, being fanciful, being art — it, and it’s lengthier animated 3-D remake, shouldn’t be required to.
It should need no “don’t try this at home” warning.
It should be allowed to just be fun, and not be subjected to hand-wringing reminders that resurrecting dead dogs, or at least what’s portrayed as such, is actually going on, or the moral and ethical issues surrounding it, or the sometimes horrific results.
And, or course, not being my movie, it shouldn’t have to make my point — one that wasn’t even necessary to make in 1984:
A dog’s death is final, and cherishing a dog’s memory (not to mention the dog while it is still alive) is a far more meaningful pursuit than trying to artificially recapture its essence in a laboratory.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 17th, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: 3d, animals, back to life, book, clone, cloned, cloned dogs, clones, cloning, death, director, dog, dog inc., dogs, entertainment, experiment, fantasy, frankenstein, frankenweenie, gothic, grief, horror story, message, moral, mourning, movie, pets, reality, resurrection, science, science fiction, sparky, tim burton, victor
To get inside a live dog’s brain, at least as one scientist sees it, you must first get the dog inside an MRI, which turned out to be a pretty big challenge for researchers at Emory University
In an effort to get a better grasp on what dogs are thinking, Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy, sent his own dog and others into an MRI — not with the use of force or restraints, but after training them to willingly enter the noisy, claustrophobia-inducing machine.
That was no simple task, as the video above shows, and as he recounts in the current issue of Psychology Today.
The knowledge gained from all that work? Hardly earth-shattering, but it’s a beginning that could end up leading to some amazing places:
“Critically, we found that the reward system of the dog’s brain behaves very much like the human’s. When Callie and McKenzie saw us giving a hand signal that indicated they were about to receive a hot dog treat, a part of their brain called the caudate lit up with activity. This is the same part of the brain that in humans becomes active when we anticipate something good about to happen. In fairness, this was exactly what we expected, because all animals have reward systems that respond to incentives.”
The research was inspired by the dog that took part in the Navy Seal raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Berns said:
“This should not have been particularly surprising, and certainly not to anyone associated with the military. Dogs had been part of military units throughout the 20th century. But the fact that a dog had helped kill the most wanted man in the world was something special. It showed that dogs were not just companions. Even though it could have no concept of democracy or freedom or individual liberty, a dog had helped defend a way of life…
“After learning the incredible things these dogs can do, I resolved to figure out what was actually going on in the mind of man’s-best-friend by using the tools of my trade: brain scanning technology.”
Berns started out with his own dog, a feist named Callie, and a border collie named McKenzie. Researchers watched what went on in their brains as they responded to two human hand signals.
But it took a long time to get to that point.
“ … We were naïve, and there were many hurdles. Ultimately, we wanted the dogs to walk up a set of steps into an MRI scanner, and shimmy inside a ‘head coil,’ which detects the signals from the brain but looks like a small birdcage lying on its side. Once in the coil they would need to put their head on a chin rest and remain absolutely motionless. A few millimeters of movement would completely destroy the image quality. And one more thing: when the MRI is running, it sounds like a jackhammer.”
Because of the scanner noise, the dogs had to be trained to wear ear muffs. All the dogs were allowed to quit the experiment at any time. “We used only positive reinforcement,” he said. “Just food and praise.
Berns said the research started year ago and is aimed at answering “the eternal question of what dogs are really thinking. More specifically, we wanted to know what a dog is thinking when it looks at its human owner.”
“As a lifelong dog owner, and currently living with dogs #6 and #7, I would like to think that I know something about what goes on in my dogs’ heads … If you saw me walking the feist you might naturally conclude that I really knew what she was thinking. After all, I talk to her like a person. Never mind that she doesn’t respond. We have developed a relationship that transcends human language. We gaze into each others’ eyes like people do. So surely there must be a bond there.
“Or is it all one-sided? Is the dog-human bond all a sham, albeit one played willingly by both parties, with the dog getting food and shelter in return for making goo-goo eyes at its owner, and the owner getting a simulacrum of undying love?
Berns believes “gazing into our dogs’ brains is like a portal back in time. We now have the tools to see how they see us. We can see the things activating in their heads that our hominid ancestors selected from the dogs’ wolfen brethren. And now we can see it from the dog’s perspective…
“Now we can begin to answer questions like: can dogs map human emotions onto their own feelings, in other words, do they have empathy? How much language do they understand? Just because they don’t speak doesn’t mean they can’t tell what we are saying.”
To learn more about The Dog Project, go here.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 7th, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, border collie, brains, callie, dog, dog brains, dogs, emory center for neuropolicy, emory university, empathy, experiment, feist, gregory berns, killing, language, mckenzie, mri, neuroscience, osama bin laden, pets, psychology today, raid, relationship, scanner, science, the dog project, training
At least that’s how your dog sees you, says Scientific American.
Unlike their wolfish ancestors, who hunted for their food, domestic dogs have become socially attached to humans, and see us as the route to dinner. Hence, those long, soulful – and, we must insist, no matter what scientists say, loving – stares we get when feeding time comes near.
To which we, being tools, generally respond.
Scientific American takes a look at how wolves and dogs have come to differ — when it comes to the source of dinner and more — in the 15,000 or more years since the domestic dog came into being.
The article focuses on a study done several years ago at Eotvos University in Budapest — aimed at determining whether the differences between dogs and wolves, socially and cognitively, were primarily genetic or experiential.
Scientists hand-raised a group of dog puppies and a group of wolf pups, starting six days after they were born.
For the first months of their lives, the wolf and dog pups were in close contact with human foster parents. They lived in the homes of their caregivers and slept with them at night. They were bottle-fed, and then hand-fed, and the human caregivers carried them in a pouch so that both wolf and dog pups could participate in as much of their daily activities as possible.
Both dogs and wolves traveled on public transportation, attended classes, and had extensive experience meeting unfamiliar humans.
At 9 weeks of age, plates of food were shown to both the wolf and dog pups. But the only way either could get it was to have eye contact with the human experimenters.
After the first minute, the dogs began to look at the humans. The wolves never seemed to catch on, staying focused on the food they couldn’t reach.
“In one sense, this is a remarkable example of tool use. Only in this case, the humans were the tools, and the dogs the tool-users,” the article notes.
In a second experiment, involving opening a bin, dogs spontaneously interacted with humans, while the wolves all but ignored the human caregivers.
“Despite the fact that they had been fully socialized, the wolves treated each of the situations as physical problems rather than social ones. Only rarely did they ever attempt to engage in a communicative problem-solving interaction with a human. It’s not that wolves are unintelligent; it’s quite the opposite, in fact. Wolves are cooperative hunters, skilled at negotiating within their own social networks. It’s just that even after being raised by humans, wolves simply do not see humans as potential social partners.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 1st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, cognitive, differences, dog, dogs, domesticated, domestication, experiment, feeding, food, genetics, humans, hunting, interaction, nurture, partners, pets, science, scientific american, social, socialization, society, tool, wolf, wolves
Maybe it’s a case of man’s best friend making for an even better scientific paper.
Maybe, as much as I write about my dog, I have no room to talk.
In any event, at least as reported by Discover magazine, a UC Davis veterinarian’s dog got into the lab trash and consumed 15 agar plates containing thallium.
Thallium is a poisonous compound used in labs to isolate Mycoplasma fungi. (As the article points out, it has also been used by murderers, and was a favorite of Saddam Hussein.)
Being a vet, the dog’s owner did what he could, including administering intravenous fluids and, eventually, a gastric feeding tube. He took notes, ran tests and documented the one-year-old shepherd mix’s slow death in a study entitled, “Thallium toxicosis in a dog consequent to ingestion of Mycoplasma agar plates.”
According to an abstract of the paper: “Clinical signs over the course of 2-3 weeks included vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, alopecia, dysphonia, ataxia, paresthesia, intension tremors, megaesophagus with subsequent aspiration pneumonia, and several seizure episodes.”
The owner/scientist measured Thallium concentrations in the dog’s hair and took blood samples at regular intervals.
After the dog’s death, the scientist/owner concluded, “Hair and blood samples are useful specimens to reach an accurate diagnosis even if taken several weeks post exposure. The postexposure blood and hair thallium concentrations reported in this case are useful data for diagnosticians investigating dogs with potential thallium poisoning.”
Not exactly the stuff of Jack London, but then again, this was a paper written for the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. Still, that the dog’s name is never acknowledged, despite her accidental contribution to scientific knowledge, is troubling.
Why does science have to be so cold? What would it lose by showing some heart?
The Discover magazine article, while putting things in slightly more understandable form, isn’t exactly touchy-feely, either:
“At the onset, the dog refused to eat and lost weight. And then things only got worse over several weeks as she lost control of her muscles, seized, caught pneumonia twice, and lost a third of her fur. She had to be fed through a tube. It took 10 months for her to even bark again…”
“While we’re glad this dog’s suffering was not in vain, we had to wonder how common thallium poisoning really is. Thallium used to be a common pesticide, but that’s been banned because it’s also such a potent human-cide. Outside of biology labs, thallium can be found in electronics and glass manufacturing or nuclear reactors, so please don’t bring your dog to work if your job is in any of those places.”
To me, the bigger question in all this, outside of whether anyone was neglectful, is how much and how long the anonymous dog suffered — whether she was kept alive for the purposes of gathering a little more data.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
It’s amazing how much scientists learn from dogs. What’s more amazing is how much they don’t.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 17th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: agar, animals, blood, davis, death, documented, dogs, ethics, experiment, hair, journal of veterinary diagnostic investigation, journals, lab, laboratory, pain, painful, paper, pesticide, pets, plates, poisoned, poisoning, research, samples, science, scientific, taken, thallium, toxic, university of california, veterinarian, veterinary
No, that’s not the football team.
These rodent warriors do battle not on the gridiron, but in the laboratory, where scientists stage bouts, and — while not charging admission or, we hope, taking bets — videotape them, to try and better understand mouse aggression.
The same sort of thing — emphasis on “sort” — Michael Vick, and many others, have gone to prison for doing with dogs.
Now PETA has joined in an effort to bring an end to the staged fights.
In a letter to the Dane County district attorney, PETA and the Madison-based Alliance for Animals allege University of Wisconsin scientists are violating a law that says “no person may intentionally instigate” a fight between animals.
The two groups cite at least 35 articles published by UW researchers since 1999 that described fights between mice, part of a federally funded effort by researchers to study aggressive behavior.
If you’re wondering why not just study professional wrestling instead — which often offers its own version of a cage match — it may be because the scientists, as part of the study, remove and probe the brains of the mice when their fighting careers end. (Try doing that with a professional wrestler and you’d be in trouble.)
Eric Sandgren, director of animal research at the university, told the Wisconsin State Journal that he doesn’t believe the law PETA is citing is intended to prohibit scientific research, but rather to prevent cockfighting, dog fighting or bullfighting. “Aggression research like this isn’t really the point of the law,” he said.
He said the “fights” are not blood-letting affairs; they generally involve mice displaying aggressive behavior but then backing away. The researchers “don’t see animals that have wounds,” he said. “They don’t see animals that are limping.”
The complaint is similar to one the Alliance for Animals and PETA filed against the University of Wisconsin a year ago that accused researchers of violating a state law that prohibits killing animals through decompression. A special prosecutor decided not to bring charges in that matter.
All the “meddling” by animal rights groups led the state legislature’s budget committee last month to approve a provision specifying “that current law provisions prohibiting crimes against animals would not apply to persons engaged in bona fide scientific research…”
Rick Bogle, co-director of Alliance for Animals, said the provision would, in effect, allow university researchers to do anything they wanted with animals.
“Their argument, the way I read it, is the state should absolutely have no say in what goes on in the state university involving animals,” he said.
According to PETA, the university has spent “millions of tax dollars on staging violent fights between animals in their laboratories for cruel aggression experiments. Experimenters lock large, aggressive mice and smaller, weaker mice together in cages that the animals can’t escape from and then watch as the weaker mice are beaten up and bitten repeatedly for as long as 10 minutes. The bouts are videotaped, and experimenters count the number of “attacks” per fight. The winners are then killed and have their brains cut out and dissected.”
You can read PETA’s letter to the Dane County District Attorney here.
Posted by jwoestendiek July 5th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggression, aggressive, alliance for animals, behavior, bouts, dane county, experiment, fighting, fighting animals, fights, fights between animals, investigation, laboratory, laboratory animals, law, madison, mice, mouse, peta, prosecution, research, science, scientists, staged, staging, study, university of wisconsin
As I’ve been saying all along, dogs can read our minds.
In addition to deciphering the meaning of obvious physical queues, like jangling car keys, they’re able to connect to our emotions and inner selves, and in so doing detect everything from disease to fear to when we’re just feeling a little blue.
On top of all the anecdotal evidence suggesting this, now comes a study in the journal Learning and Behavior that says dogs, and even wolves, have “canine telepathy,” and that they are born with the ability to at least make a pretty good guess what humans are thinking.
(My hunch is, once they read our minds, the first thing they do is think to themselves, “Boy, I’m glad I’m a dog.”)
Domestication has allowed dogs to fine tune the process, so the more a dog hangs around humans, the better he or she becomes at “canine telepathy,” which actually relies upon hyperawareness of the senses, Discovery.com reports.
The study by Monique Udell and her team from the University of Florida looked into why dogs are so good at reading us, and how they accomplish it.
Udell’s team carried out two experiments involving both wolves and dogs. Both were given the opportunity to beg for food, either from an attentive person or from a person unable to see the animal. Both wolves and dogs decided to pester the attentive human, showing that both domesticated and non-domesticated members of the species have the capacity to behave in accordance with a human’s “attentional state.”
Still, the study suggests, domesticated dogs, especially those in happy homes as opposed to shelters, may have better refined the skill, which is probably simply because they’ve come to better understand humans, and their particular human.
My dog Ace, though he has misread me a time or two — probably because my brain uses so many dashes – is a master mind reader who often better knows what I’m thinking than I do, as I suggested, in haiku form, last week.
At dinner, for instance, he’ll get as close as he can and stare at me while I eat, knowing I must be thinking about giving him some of my food when I’m pretty sure I have no intention — or thought — of doing so.
Then I inevitably toss him a bite or two, proving he was right all along.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 14th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, attentive, awareness, behavior, canine, dog, dogs, domestication, emotion, emotions, experiment, hyperawareness, mind readers, mind reading, monique udell, pets, read our mind, science, senses, study, telepathy, university of florida, wolves
Sheena’s former guardian, identified only as Gayle, surrendered the dog to the North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (NUVAS) in hopes of finding her a new home, according to the PETA Files
Sheena wasn’t getting along with another dog in the house and Gayle could not afford to keep three large dogs.
After surrendering Sheena, Gayle, visited the dog several times at the shelter in Lindon, Utah, to make sure that she was being cared for. One day, though, when Gayle called to check on the dog, she was told Sheena was gone.
Shelter staff informed her that Sheena had been sold to the University of Utah, and declined to say much beyond that.
Gayle contacted the university to determine whether Sheena was still alive, then called PETA’s emergency hotline, which informed her that NUVAS regularly sells dogs — some of them the same ones they feature on their website as cute, cuddly and adoptable — to the university for use in medical experiments.
According to PETA, dogs recently purchased by the university from the animal shelter have had holes cut into their chests and necks, and pacemakers implanted onto their hearts in order to induce irregular heartbeats; the dogs were then killed and dissected.
(A PETA petition urging the shelter’s board of directors to cease the practice can be signed here.)
Gayle called the university and demanded her dog back, and with assistance from PETA found a foster home where Sheena will stay until a permanent home can be found.
(Photo: Courtesy of PETA)
Posted by jwoestendiek December 23rd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, dogs, experiment, experimentation, experiments, foster, laboratories, medical, north utah valley animal shelter, nuvas, people for the ethical treatment of animals, peta, petition, pets, rescue, sells, sheena, shelter, sold, surgical, university of utah, vivisection
A new study confirms the notion that self-control is a limited resource, one that can and does get depleted — in humans and dogs.
And glucose, the study says, is one solution to helping us — whatever our species — stay on task, Miller-McCune magazine reports on its health blog.
The University of Kentucky study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science, says the same mechanism that regulates human self-control also operates in canines.
A research team led by psychologist Holly Miller conducted two experiments with canines, observing how much persistence they exhibited when given a task.
In the first, 13 dogs were separated into pairs based on their training history. One from each pair was cued to sit and stay by its owner for 10 minutes, with the command being repeated as necessary. The other was simply kept in a quiet room for that same amount of time.
Afterward, each dog was given a Tug-a-Jug toy, a clear cylinder containing treats that can be accessed via a hole at one end — if the dog manipulates it properly. Each toy contained half a hot dog, too large to fit through the hole.
The dogs that had exercised self-control by sitting in place for 10 minutes gave up and discarded the toy more quickly than the others.
In a second experiment, 22 dogs repeated the first experiment with an additional component: Half the dogs were given a glucose drink prior to grappling with the toy, and half were given a sugar-free beverage.
“Dogs given a glucose drink persisted in interacting with the toy whether or not they had had to exert self-control prior to the test,” the researchers report, adding the glucose apparently replenished the animal’s capacity to keep at the task.
Previous research has shown glucose has a similar effect on humans.
“People can control their own behavior,” Miller said. “When they fail, it is not because they are terrible or weak; it is because they are depleted … If they want better self-control, they can build it. They can encourage their bodies to store more self-control fuel via exercise.”
Posted by jwoestendiek March 18th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, canines, depleted, dogs, exercise, experiment, glucose, holly miller, humans, news, persistence, pets, replenished, research, science, self control, study, tasks, university of kentucky, willpower
This is likely an advertisement in disguise (for the Sony Ericsson C510, with Smile Shutter), seems a trifle staged, and is far from scientific. But it passes the cute test.
In the video series, a camera is attached to the necks of different pups to document the reaction of the women the dog attracts. The purpose: to determine which breed is the best chick magnet.
In case you don’t have 10 minutes to spare, here are the results: The samoyed drew the most females, but the pug — at least in the view of the two dudes in the video — drew the hottest ones.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 5th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: advertisement, border collie, breeds, chick magnet, dogs, experiment, pug, samoyed, smile shutter, sony ericsson c510, video, women, yorkshire terrier, youtube
Who needs children when a puppy can provide a similar emotional experience?
New Scientist magazine recently asked that question in an article about a Japanese study that showed relating to dogs causes a surge of the same hormones triggered by nurturing an infant, romantic love and close friendship.
Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle chemical” and the “love drug,” has been found to relieve stress, combat depression, breed trust in humans and generally make life more worth living. When two humans bond, their oxytocin levels increase.
Miho Nagasawa and Takefumi Kikusui, biologists at Azuba University in Japan, suspected social contact between two different species might boost oxytocin levels, as well.
“Miho and I are big dog lovers and feel something changed in our bodies when gazed [upon] by our dogs,” Kikusui says.
They recruited 55 dog owners and their pets for a videotaped laboratory play session. Owners provided a urine sample to measure oxytocin levels. They were then divided into two groups — one that played with their dog for half an hour, one that sat in the same room but were told to completely avoid their dogs’ gazes.
Then everybody’s urine was tested again. Participants that spent a long time making eye contact were determined to have experienced increases in their oxytocin levels of more than 20%. Those who avoided their pooches’ gaze saw their oxytocin levels drop slightly.
Among those playing with their dogs, the longer they made eye contact, the higher the increase was in their levels of the hormone.
A flood of the cuddle chemical could explain why playing with dogs can lift moods and even improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, Kikusui says. Possibly, the scientists say, oxytocin even played a part in the domestication of dogs from wolves, about 15,000 years ago.
“Maybe during the evolutionary process, humans and dogs came to share the same social cues”, such as eye contact and hand gestures, Kikusui says. “This is why dogs can adapt to human society.”
Posted by jwoestendiek March 31st, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: azuba university, bond, bonding, children, cuddle chemical, depression, dog, dogs, evolution, evolved, experiment, eye contact, hormone, hormones, humanization, japan, love drug, new scientist, owners, oxytocin, relationship, science, social contact, stress, study, trust