Whether its lowering our blood pressure, upping our oxytocin (that hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy), or keeping us sane (no small task), you can bet there’s a study underway at some university somewhere seeking to unravel — and dryly present to us — more hard evidence of yet another previously mysterious way that dogs enhance our well-being.
Given that, it’s a nice change of pace to plunge into a more anecdotal account — one that looks at the near magical mental health benefits one woman reaped through her dog, and does so with candor and humor, as opposed to sappiness.
“Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself” is a book that shows, far better than any scientific study, just how valuable — no, make that priceless — the human-dog bond is.
The memoir spans a year in the life of the author, Julie Barton, starting when, just one year out of college and living in Manhattan, she had what we used to call a “nervous breakdown.”
A barely coherent phone call from her kitchen floor brought her mother racing to her side from Ohio to take her home.
Barton was diagnosed with major depression — one that didn’t seem to lift, despite the best efforts of family, doctors, therapists and the pharmaceutical industry. She spent entire days in bed, refusing to get up.
Around the same time doctors started her on Zoloft, Barton told her mother she’d like to get a dog. Her mother thought that was a great idea. A few weeks later, they were bringing home a golden retriever pup. Barton named him Bunker.
On that first night, Bunker started whimpering in his crate, and Barton crawled inside with him:
“It occurred to me as I gently stroked his side that this was the first time in recent memory that I was reassuring another living thing. And, miraculously, I knew in that moment that I was more than capable of caring for him. I felt enormously driven to create a space for Bunker that felt safe, free of all worry, fear and anxiety. For the first time in a long time, I felt as if I had a purpose.”
Barton’s depression didn’t lift overnight; it never does. But, as the artfully written story unravels, Bunker gives Barton the confidence she needs to start a new life on her own in Seattle.
The are plenty of bumps ahead, and more than a few tests, but, given we’re recommending you read it for yourself, we won’t divulge them here.
Or you can wait for the next scientific study that comes along, proclaiming — in heartless, soulless prose — to prove one way or another what we already know:
Dogs are good for the heart and soul.
Posted by John Woestendiek August 24th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, benefits, bond, book, books, books on dogs, bunker, dog books, dog medicine, golden retriever, health, humans, julie barton, memoir, mental health, nurture, nurturin, pets, reading, rescue, science, studies, thinkpiece publishing
If you’re wondering how your dog is able to magically sense when you are sad, take a look in the mirror.
(And quit moping, you might be bringing your dog down.)
A new study suggests dogs have a specialized region in their brains for processing faces, and that face-reading region in the temporal cortex may help explain how they’ve become so adept at reading human social cues — a skill that up to now has, at least in the eyes of scientists, only been well-documented in humans and other primates.
Dogs have “neural machinery” that has been “hard-wired through cognitive evolution,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and the senior author of the study.
Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology, which is researching evolutionary questions surrounding man’s best friend.
The project was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.
In previous research, the Dog Project identified a region of the canine brain that served as a reward center, and showed that region was responsible for a dog’s brain responding more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.
In the current study, the researchers focused on how dogs respond to faces versus everyday objects, reports Phys.org.
“Dogs are obviously highly social animals,” Berns says, “so it makes sense that they would respond to faces. We wanted to know whether that response is learned or innate.”
The answer appears to be it’s a little of both — it was there to begin with, but has been honed over centuries of socializing with humans.
The study involved dogs viewing both static images and video images on a screen while undergoing an MRI.
Since dogs do not normally interact with two-dimensional images, they had to undergo training to learn to pay attention to the screen. Only six of the eight dogs enrolled in the study were able to hold a gaze for at least 30 seconds on each of the images, but for each of those six a region in their temporal lobe responded significantly more to movies of human faces.
The researchers have dubbed the canine face-processing region they identified the dog face area, or DFA.
(We assume they came up with that using that area of the human brain that is not too imaginative and wants to give everything an acronym.)
A previous study, decades ago, using electrophysiology, found sheep had facial recognition skills, but only a few face-selective cells were identified, as opposed to an entire region of the cortex, said Daniel Dilks, an Emory assistant professor of psychology and author of the study.
Humans, by the way, have at least three face processing regions in the brain.
“Dogs have been cohabitating with humans for longer than any other animal,” Dilks said. “They are incredibly social, not just with other members of their pack, but across species. Understanding more about canine cognition and perception may tell us more about social cognition and perception in general.”
(Photo courtesy of Gregory Berns, Emory University)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 4th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cognition, daniel dilks, dog, dog project, dogs, emory, emory university, faces, fmri, gregory berns, humans, mood, moods, mri, pets, psychology, read, recognition, recognize, response, social cues, the dog project
You can’t say Bible-quoting conservatives didn’t warn us.
Let members of the same sex get married, they said, and it will open the door to even unholier unions.
Now comes word from Metro that a woman in the Nederlands plans to marry her dog.
Dominique Lesbirel, 41, says she might not do it immediately, because she wants to be sure that she’s not acting out of grief.
You see, her husband, Doerack, just died. He had kidney failure.
Oh, and he was a cat.
Lesbirel married Doerack eight years ago, conducting the ceremony herself, based on the authority she thinks she holds from getting ordained online.
She says she regularly officiates weddings between people with their pets — but not before doing some research and making sure they truly love, respect and are committed to each other. Also, she says, she wouldn’t marry anyone to a lion or tiger.
A Metro online poll shows only 8 percent of us would marry our pet.
Lesbirel, whose services are explained on her website, says some people have accused her of animal cruelty and promoting bestialty, which is “certainly not the case.”
“I would never condone such terrible acts of cruelty to animals. My site is all about making a commitment to pets to show your dedication to them and promise that you will always look after them.”
“We’d be lost without those happy little faces at our windows, so I’ll do anything I can to remind people to treat animals with love, kindness and respect.”
That, she says, is why she will someday soon tie the knot with her dog, Travis.
“He has given me so much happiness and unconditional love. I just want to celebrate that bond.”
(Photo:PA Real Life, via Metro)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 21st, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cat, cats, dog, dogs, dominique lesbirel, humans, inter-species, marriage, marry, marrying, morality, pet, pets, travis, uk, values, wedding
The dog — named Adam, ironically enough — is allergic to humans.
Adam was pulled from a shelter by Lucky Dog Rescue in Indianapolis last July, but it took a while for vets to determine what was causing his fur to fall out.
“When we first saw him, he looked just absolutely miserable,” Lucky Dog president Robin Herman told ABC’s Good Morning America. ”He felt like Vaseline. Reddish-pinkish fluid would just ooze out of his skin.”
The rescue center, which was working with Indianapolis’ Animal Medical Center, originally believed that Adam, who was one-a-half at the time, had flea dermatitis.
Months went by — he spent at least six of them wearing a cone — and his condition didn’t get better.
But in late October, Dr. Rachel Anderson, a veterinarian from the medical center, ordered some allergy tests, and was shocked by the results.
“It was a really interesting phone call,” Herman said. “She was like, ‘You’re not going to believe what he’s allergic to! It’s really remarkable, he’s allergic to humans the same way some people are allergic to dogs and cats.”
Specifically, the blood tests showed Adam is allergic to human dander, as well as cat dander, some plants, walnuts and some insects like houseflies and cockroaches.
After news first broke about Adam’s condition, people from as far away as Australia and the U.K. contacted the center either with adoption inquiries or donations, Herman said.
But Adam ended up finding a permanent home with the center employee who spent the last year caring for him, Beth Weber, who now makes sure he gets the proper medications and gives him baths every three days with a different kind of soap every other time.
He’s also seeing a specialist at the Animal Dermatology Clinic in Indianapolis.
“He’s come such a long way,” Herman said. “… All his fur is back except for a little spot on his butt and tail. Though he’s going to be on medications for the rest of his life … he’s now on the road to full recovery and health.”
(Photos: Lucky Dog Rescue’s Facebook page)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 10th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adam, allergic, allergies, animals, condition, dogs, humans, indianapolis, indianapolis animal medical center, lab, lucky dog, lucky dog rescue, mix, pets, rescue, skin
There’s no question humans played a major — you could even say heavy-handed — role in the evolution of dogs.
But might dogs and their predecessors have played an equally significant role in our’s?
A new book by Pennsylvania State University anthropologist Pat Shipman, “The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction,” suggests that having wolves/dogs on our side allowed humans to survive while Neanderthals went extinct.
(Well, maybe not totally extinct; I know at least two.)
In reality, most humans today — thanks to long-ago couplings between humans and Neanderthals — have anywhere from one to four percent of Neanderthal genes in their systems. (Those genes, I suspect, are responsible for making us tailgate, become bodybuilders and cut in line.)
Neanderthals lived, evolved and pretty much ruled for about 250,000 years. After humans came along, about 40,000 years ago, the numbers of Neanderthals declined, then vanished, falling victim, some think, to the superior intellect, skills and weapons of early humans.
Shipman agrees with that theory, but argues humans having wolves on their side was a critical factor.
Neanderthals, the author says, never buddied up with the wolf, while humans would go on to form an alliance with them, tame them, breed them and assign them the kind of tasks that helped with survival — like hunting, guarding and chasing away enemies.
Given dogs were once thought to have been domesticated only 10,000 to 15,000 years ago — long after Neanderthals and humans had it out — little attention was paid to what, if any role, they might have played in the conflict.
But newer evidence, suggesting the domestication of dog goes back 25,000, 35,000, or even more than 100,000 years ago, lends credence to the conclusion dogs were a factor in the survival of our species.
It’s all pretty fascinating stuff — from whence we came, from whence dog came, and how, when and why we seemingly became allies.
But, other than the fact that knowing how our species has managed to survive this long might help it continue to do so, I’m not sure how relevant it is to modern times — unless, as one writer semi-playfully suggests in a piece for WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, how much an individual likes or dislikes dogs is related to the amount of Neanderthal within.
“Depending on the individual, you might just wonder if dog loving might be an indicator of the ratio of Neanderthal genes you’ve got,” Vicki Croke wrote on the WBUR blog, “The Wild Life.” She quotes Lauren Slater, author of “The $60,000 Dog:”
“What this may mean: all those ‘not dog’ people, the ones who push away the paws and straighten their skirts after being sniffed, well, they may have one foot in the chromosomally compromised Neanderthal pool,” Slater wrote, while dog lovers “may be displaying not idiocy or short-sighted sentimentality, as our critics would call it, but a sign of our superior genetic lineage.”
So the next time some small foreheaded, prim and proper, club-carrying type asks that you keep your dog away from them, by all means comply, but feel free to mutter under your breath as you walk away:
“What a Neanderthal!”
Posted by John Woestendiek March 27th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alliances, allies, animals, anthropology, book, books on dogs, dog, dog books, dogs, evolution, human, humans, neanderthal, neanderthals, pat shipman, pets, survival, the invaders, wolves
Disliking all the rules that come with staying in a homeless shelter — especially the ones that prohibit dogs — Bernard Holland chose homelessness over doglessness.
He’d arrived in indianapolis a few weeks before Thanksgiving, stayed with family until that turned sour, then — as temperatures plummeted — pitched a tent in what’s known as The Jungle, a homeless camp just east of downtown.
That’s where a social worker ran into him and his two-year-old mutt, Oreo, on a night temperatures were dropping below zero.
Now, one of them, at least, is staying warm.
When Ben Bierlein, owner of Wigglebutt Doghouse, heard of the pair’s plight, he offered to take Oreo in and foster her at the daycare and boarding facility.
“To us, the real story here is about a man, although down on his luck and living in a tent, who would not give up on his dog,” Bierlein explained to the Indianapolis Star.
“The fact that he was willing to gut it out in sub-zero temperatures because he didn’t want to leave his dog — that’s pretty powerful. With the myriad of reasons people surrender their dogs to shelters, Bernard would have had a very valid reason, but he loves Oreo; she means the world to him.”
Bierlein, after being contacted by the social worker who came across Holland and Oreo — Melissa Burgess of Horizon House – offered to care for Oreo during the cold snap. He also paid to get Oreo up to date on shots and to be spayed.
Normally, that would allow Holland to get a slot at a homeless shelter. But he’s still living outside — at least partly by choice.
Holland says he’ll continue to make his home in a tent, unless the nights get too unbearably cold. He says he’s put off by the early curfew and other rules of homeless shelters, and considers them a last resort.
He has enrolled in Opportunity Knocks classes through Horizon House, and he hopes to find a job as a painter or janitor. Horizon House is also trying to help him find affordable housing where Oreo, who he has had since she was four months old, would be welcome.
Holland, 53, said he once operated his own drywall business in Chicago, but in 1992 he was shot at random by two teens as part of their gang initiation and had to undergo multiple surgeries.
Now, he says, he just wants to “get Oreo back, have a roof over my head and have a job and do the right thing in life. I’m not looking to be rich, just live a happy life.”
He plans to hop on the bus and visit Oreo regularly until they are reunited.
Meanwhile, ”Oreo is putting smiles on all of the faces here,” the owner of Wigglebutt said. “She is adorable, the biggest sweetheart — and she has made lots of new four-legged friends. She’s very dog-social. If you could watch her during the day, you’d think she’s been coming to doggie day care for years.”
(Photo: Mike Fender / The Star)
Posted by John Woestendiek January 21st, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bernard holland, boarding, day care, dog, doghouse, dogs, homeless, homelessness, humans, oreo, pets, rules, shelters, social services, wigglebutt, winter
Out of work and out of money, Pete Buchmann could no longer pay his rent. So the Claymont, Del., man and his dog Buster moved to the back yard of a vacant home nearby and pitched a tent.
Even during the warmth of July, the novelty of that wore off pretty quick — perhaps quicker for Buster, who is nine and arthritic, than Pete, who is 54 and able-bodied.
“It was kind of fun for about a week,” Buchmann said, “but it wasn’t good for Buster.”
Buchmann moved to Delaware less than two years ago from Long Island, where he cared for an ailing mother and sister until their deaths. He got by on part-time jobs, but when even those ran out he was forced to sell his car, then give up his $800-a-month pet-friendly apartment.
Realizing life in a tent wasn’t going to be good for him or his dog, Buchmann asked police for the name of animal shelter where he could take Buster — and maybe get him back once he was on his feet and employed again.
He was given contact information for Faithful Friends Animal Society in Wilmington.
After leaving a couple of phone messages, and details on where he and Buster could be found, Buchmann received a visit from a shelter official.
“We drove out and found them,” Lou Henderson, manager of the shelter’s dog department told the Wilmington News Journal. ”We also took Pete a goodie bag with some food and things in it to help him.”
Buchmann said his goodbyes and Buster, a Rottweiler-boxer mix, was taken to the shelter.
But neither the story, nor Pete and Buster’s relationship, ended there.
While Buster is enjoying the hospitality of Faithful Friends, Buchmann is now residing (though not in a private room) at the Sunday Breakfast Mission.
And every day, he walks five miles to visit with and walk Buster.
He helps out with the shelter’s other dogs, too
“I am just amazed at his attitude,” Executive Director Jane Pierantozzi said. “He walks two-and-a-half miles each way every day to see Buster, and then he spends two or three hours helping us walk the dogs. Most people in his situation would be depressed and angry, but he isn’t.”
Pierantozzi says she has been so impressed with Buchmann, she’d hire him if the non-profit shelter had the money. Instead, she’s reaching out to her contacts in hopes of finding him a full-time job.
“Pete has been so resilient through all his trials,” she said. “It’s bad enough to lose your home, but to not know what’s going to happen to your pet is horrible. I just hope there are people out there that can help.”
While the organization commonly helps find new homes for pets surrendered by financially-pinched owners, Buster wasn’t adoption material.
“He’s old, he has arthritis, and he’s protective of and attached to Pete. Dogs like that can go down fast in a shelter. We knew if he went to a kill shelter he wouldn’t survive.”
Meanwhile, at the Sunday Breakfast Mission, Buchmann has been getting to know his fellow shelter dwellers — many of whom, like him, don’t fit the homeless person stereotype
“I don’t drink, and I don’t do drugs. There are a lot of very smart people living at the mission who are just down on their luck,” he said.
Buchmann said he’s grateful to be able to visit his dog, and looking forward to living together with him again.
“He’s my buddy; he’s been with me through everything,” he said. “He seems content here, and he knows now that I’m coming back, that he hasn’t been deserted.”
(Photos: Jennifer Corbett / The News Journal)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 21st, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bond, boxer, buster, buster and pete, delaware, dogs, faithful friends animal society, homeless, homelessness, humans, mix, no-kill, pete and buster, pete buchmann, pets, reunion, rottweiler, sunday breakfast mission, visits, walks, wilmington