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Tag: humans

Hope for glioblastoma victims seen in dog experiments underway at Virginia Tech


The rare form of brain cancer that killed John McCain and Ted Kennedy has also been a death sentence for many dogs, but researchers are seeing at least a little hope for canines in an experimental treatment being studied at Virginia Tech.

Researchers at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech are enrolling dogs with glioblastoma into a clinical trial to test the experimental drug that is injected directly into the tumors.

They say the results are so promising that the National Institutes of Health is now helping fund the trial, hoping it could eventually lead to a breakthrough in humans.

McCain succumbed to the cancer Aug. 25, exactly nine years to the day after Kennedy, his former colleague in the Senate, did.

Dogs and humans are the only species in which primary brain tumors are common. In dogs, a glioma accounts for about 35% of all spontaneous primary brain tumors. The prognosis for both dogs and humans diagnosed with the cancer is poor.

In the Virginia Tech clinical trial, researchers are testing the safety and effectiveness of molecularly targeted cytotoxins, which are chemotherapeutic drugs — a treatment developed at the Thomas K. Hearn Brain Tumor Research Center at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The drugs are designed to affect only cancerous cells, and not normal brain tissue. Using specialized catheters the cytotoxins are infused into the tumor over a several hour period. The drug treatment is monitored continuously with MRI to allow the neurosurgeon to precisely track the drug delivery.

CBS News reported on the trials recently and interviewed the owners of one of the study’s participants — a 10-year-old Portuguese water dog named Emily.

Laura Kamienski said she was devastated when her dog was diagnosed earlier this year, and was willing to try any experimental treatment available.

It has been six weeks since Emily’s first treatment and Kamienski said Emily hasn’t had a seizure. MRI scans show Emily’s tumors are shrinking.

“She’s herself,” she said.

“We watch the entire treatment on MRI,” Dr. John Rossmeisl, professor neurology and neurosurgery at Virginia Tech, told CBS News. “So we can watch the drug cover the tumor. And so we know we’ve achieved the treatment goals of actually targeting all the cancer cells.”

“The black spot means the tumor is dying. That’s what we want to see,” Rossmeisl said. “The only way this could have been better if it was totally gone. This is really good news.”

“It’s not a cure, Kamienski said. “I knew that going in. This is the best hope — to give her more time.”

(Photos: At top, brain scans from a 7-year-old female Boston terrier, Virginia Tech; lower, McCain and Kennedy, Twitter)

Twinkle, twinkle little dog, empathetic is what you are

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Do dogs feel empathy? Of course, all us dog people say. Maybe, scientists have generally said.

Now comes what describes itself as the first scientific proof that pets are empathetic, in tune with their owner’s emotions, and quickly respond when they think their owners are upset.

In a new study, scientists took 34 dogs and positioned them behind a movable door with their owners on the other side.

Then they had those owners either pretend to cry, call for help, or hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

The dogs nosed their way through the door three times more quickly when they thought their owners were upset and needed comforting.

“We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, if a dog knows a way to help them, they’ll go through barriers to provide to help them,” said lead author Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

reddit“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they’ve learned to read our social cues,” she said. “Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action.”

Researchers also determined dogs with lower stress levels were more likely to push through the door to “rescue” their owners.

Senior author Julia Meyers-Manor first conceived of the experiment after her own dog, a collie, rushed to her side after hearing her fake muffled cries for help while she was playing with her children.

A former faculty member at Macalester College and current assistant professor of psychology at Ripon College, she wondered just how far a dog would go for a distressed human companion The Smithsonian reported.

Together with Sanford, an undergraduate at Macalester at the time, and their colleague Emma R. Burt, Meyers-Manor designed a series of experiments to explore the extent of empathy in dogs.

First, 34 dogs were separated from their owners by a clear plastic door held shut with magnets. The owners were instructed to either make crying noises or hum “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for up to five minutes. Every 15 seconds, they would say the word “help” in either an upset or casual tone to match their emotional state.

Half the dogs pushed through the door to get to their humans’ side regardless of the anguish their owners conveyed.

Upon closer inspection of the dogs that entered their owners’ room, Sanford noticed that those who were hearing weeping barged in about four times faster than those hearing nonchalant humming. And when the team assessed the strength of each dog’s bond to its owner, they found that dogs who were more attached to their people were more likely to rush in to the sound of sobbing than those who stayed put.

“This validates what a lot of people already feel: The dogs do respond to the crying,” said Meyers-Manor. “It’s not just your imagination when your dog cuddles you when you’re crying in bed. They do seem to care about how we’re feeling.”

The study, titled “Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs,” was published in the journal Learning & Behavior.

The responding dogs were also calmer when they reacted, and the dogs who barked and paced instead were more highly stressed.

“We think the dogs who opened that door might have been at that sweet spot: they perceived stress, but weren’t so personally distressed that they couldn’t do anything,” Sanford said.

Other variations in the responses could have resulted from that quality of the fake crying — “Some of the owners weren’t exactly actors,” she explained.

Regardless of their dogs’ reactions in the moment, most of the study’s human participants affirmed their dogs generally responded to them when they were troubled or in danger.

(Photo credits: Top, PetSmart Charities, lower, Reddit)

Another example of how humans and dogs are becoming more alike: our poop


It’s never really looked at it in its entirety, as one phenomenon, but how alike dogs and humans are — and keep becoming — continues to astound scientists around the globe.

Compassion? Both species seem to have it. Cognition? Dogs are quite capable of that, perhaps even exceeding us in certain areas. The diseases and disorders we get? Pretty much the same.

Not too many people look at the forest — at what all this, cobbled together, might mean — but scientists from particular disciplines, locked in a lab with a narrow focus, keep discovering new similarities, such as this latest one, deep in our intestines.

The microorganisms that live in dog’s intestines are more similar to the microbes inside us than to those in other animals, says a new study published in the journal Microbiome.

The dog microbiome “has some of the same species [of bacteria] as the human’s,” said lead author Luis Pedro Coelhos, “but different strains.”

The researchers were surprised because they expected that dogs would share only a few strains of bacteria with their owners. Instead, their intestinal flora could be cousins, says a summary of the study in Popular Science.

The study was not really about those similarities; it was aimed at better understanding canine weight loss.

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Nestlé Purina Research worked with a sample of 32 beagles and 32 Labrador retrievers. Half of the members of each breed were overweight, while the other half were a healthy weight. For four weeks, they fed all of the dogs the same diet of Purina.

Then, they collected poop and conducted DNA analyses as they further altered the diets of the dogs.

They found the leaner dogs’ microbiomes changed much less than that of the overweight dogs. The findings, they say, gave then a baseline for how a healthy dog microbiome should behave, and suggested dogs may be better subjects for research into human weight loss than other species that have been used for that purpose.

Jack Gilbert, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Microbiome Center who does research for Purina but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science the study was significant for what it showed about the similarities between the guts of dogs and our own.

“You can control a dog’s diet much more than you can do a human’s,” says Gilbert. The same is true for pigs and mice, but the fact that dogs have such a similar microbiomes to humans means that studying their response to certain diets could produce the best results.

The cause of the similarities isn’t entirely understood, but the study pointed out, “Dogs were domesticated early in modern human history and frequently shared food resources with humans.”

Over time, their digestive systems might have grown even more like our’s, and their obesity rates have come to mirror that of humans.

Further proof that we don’t just like each other, we are like each other — and in ways that continue to be discovered, as we sit around learning, bonding, loving, overeating and growing fat together, becoming, more and more, reflections of each other.

(Photo: Digital Vision/Getty)

This robot dog would be more than a toy

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Robot dogs are a dime a dozen — well, not quite, the latest Sony Aibo goes for about $1,700 — but the point is they’ve become pretty common in the overpriced toy market.

A researcher at the University of Washington, though, is working on a version of a robot dog that promises to do more than than sit and bark and (though real dogs seldom do this) play music that you program into them.

Normally, when we hear the phrase artificial intelligence we think of intelligence that mimics that of a human.

Kiana Ehsani and colleagues have gathered a unique data set of canine behavior and used it to train an AI system to make dog-like decisions, according to MIT Technology Review.

They say their approach opens up a new area of AI research that studies the capabilities of other intelligent beings on our planet, which strikes me as a good thing — given how humans often botch things up.

To gather their initial data, the team fitted a dog with inertial measurement units on its legs, tail, and body to record. They also fitted a GoPro camera to the dog’s head to record the visual scene, sampled at a rate of five frames per second, and a microphone on the dog’s back to record sound.

It gathered about 24,500 video frames with synchronized body position and movement data to further understand how dogs, act, plan and learn, and to try to predict a dog’s future movements based on those recorded ones.

The researchers say the system got the point that it could accurately predict the next five movements after seeing a sequence of five images.

No actual dog robot was built, just an AI system, but the far away goal appears to be a robot dog that could do everything a real dog does, up to and including sniffing out a trail, and helping the blind.

Of course we already have an abundance of dogs with a built-in knack for those kind of things but, human intelligence being what it is, we want to duplicate it in machine form. And more to the point, there are things to be learned in doing so.

The team loaded up a Malamute named Kelp M. Redmon with sensors, to record movements, video of the dog’s viewpoint, and a microphone.

They recorded hours of activities — walking in various environments, fetching things, playing at a dog park, eating — syncing the dog’s movements to what it saw.

The resulting data was used to train a new AI agent.

Their work so far gathered data from just one dog, and it was primarily on what the dog saw and heard and the movements it made. Much more baseline data would be needed to get anywhere — and giving a robot a nose able to sniff out all that dogs to would surely be daunting, if even doable.

But the research is continuing, and the researchers feel the approach could be used to better understand the intelligence of other animals as well, TechCrunch reported.

“We hope this work paves the way towards better understanding of visual intelligence and of the other intelligent beings that inhabit our world,” Ehsani said.

Are there too many dogs on the Internet?

image001Depictions of dogs, as any one who has ever read the wall of a prehistoric cave knows, date back to well before ancient times.

Pharaohs commissioned artworks of their favorite pets. Portrayals of hunting and images of medieval banquets often featured dogs in the background or foreground. In the Victorian-era, aristocrats hired painters to make portraits of themselves and their pooches.

As the 20th Century dawned, as humans came to live ever closer to the species, artists seized upon the idea of depicting dogs dressed in human attire and doing human things, bringing us such classes artworks as the inimitable (but often imitated) work, Dogs Playing Poker.

Well before photography went digital, before somebody flicked that World Wide Web switch on, dog depictions were being shared — if not as instantly, often, ridiculously and (often) demaningly as they are today on the Internet, and social media in particular.

Even in my earliest days in journalism, back in the 1970’s, I remember some newspapers had a pet writer — someone who penned a pet column, usually weekly. He or she was commonly an older person who performed mostly clerical duties, maybe a secretary for some top editor, who, due to his or her love for dogs, had volunteered for the task, likely at no increase in pay.

He or she would probably feature a dog in need of adoption every week, or write about pet care and training, or simply ask readers to submit photos of their pets for publication — an opportunity many readers seized, sending actual photos through actual mail.

One of the differences between then and now — a time when many a website is telling you how much they would like to see photos of your dog — is that the old clerk/pet writer’s request for photos was more than likely at least partly sincere.

pokerThose folks who want to see your dog’s photo now? Almost always, they are after something else. You can trust them about as much as the bulldog sneaking an ace to his friend in that painting to the left there.

Pet food websites, pet toy websites, even (we hate to admit it) pet news websites will commonly beg you for a photo of your pooch — not because anyone actually wants to see it, but because they want to get you on their email lists, get you “registered,” introduce you to their products and enlist your loyalty.

They want, more than anything, your money, and like many other businesses that want your money, they will gladly deceive you and try to capitalize on your love for/pride in your pet:

“We’d love to see a photo of your dog!”

Yeah, right.

I’m not here today to say that there are too many dogs on the Internet — even if never before in the history of man have we been so saturated with dog photos and images. The more the merrier, I say.

But I would argue there is too much dog exploitation and too much dog ridicule on the Internet, much of it carried out via those “adorable” photos of your “fur baby” — sometimes by profit-making concerns, sometimes by dog owners themselves.

Compare and contrast, if you will, our old, likely unpaid, pet columnist with someone like Matt Nelson, who is making a six figure annual salary by posting photos sent in by readers, along with a comment and a numerical rating (based on the dog, not the photo) at @dog_rates.

He is not taking any photos. He is not buying any photos. He’s really not doing much work at all, other than accumulating followers. He is merely sharing other people’s photos on Twitter — and managing to make a handsome living from it.

Nelson — profiled by Money magazine recently — dropped out of college once he saw how popular his dog photo sharing Twitter page had become:

There, WeRateDogs’ operations are relatively simple. Nelson estimates he runs 95 percent of things from his iPhone (which, yes, he confirms, does require a massive data plan to handle all the dog photos). He has two remote employees: Ricci, who culls submissions down to about 20 each day, and Tyler Macke, who manages the WeRateDogs online store. His dad, an executive director of a law firm, advises him on finances.

Nelson says he brings in “a low five figures” every month. At minimum, that puts him over $100,000 a year.

Thanks, Money magazine, for doing the math for us.

While Nelson may not be doing much original or creative work, at least his pursuit is mostly cute and kind and well meaning.

20151016_181413-e1522168748576Other dog photo sharing websites are more distasteful to me — dogshaming.com, in particular.

It features photos of dogs who have misbehaved, along with hand-made signs — all submitted by readers.

But perhaps most troubling of all are the photos and videos that individuals post to their Facebook page showing their dogs doing distinctly human things.

Alexandra Horowitz, the author and researcher who has spent her career seriously studying and trying to understand dogs — despite what seems to be society’s preference to see them as dress-up dolls, movie characters with human voices, or (apologies to those who use the term) “fur babies” — made note of the phenomena in last week’s New York Times Opinion section.

In it, she asked the question:

“Why can’t I stand to look at one more photo of a ‘funny dog?'”

She continued, “In a typical image, the dog is posed in a distinctly person-like way, as if on the phone, seated at a table or wearing headphones and dressed up in human attire — glasses, a dog-size suit and tie, even pantyhose.”

” … These dogs are but furry emoji: stand ins for emotions and sentiment. Each representation diminishes this complex, impressive creature to an object of our most banal imagination,” Horowitz wrote. “Such treatment may not be mortifying to the dog, perhaps … but it is degrading to the species.”

Only the most extreme examples of making our dogs look ridiculous receive any sort of backlash — primarily from people who see the pet as being abused. Like this one on Twitter. Go to the link and read all the comments and you almost think, maybe people are coming to their senses.

It bugs me that society is this way — that it took a species, molded it to its liking, and continually foists its own likeness and peculiarities upon it. It bugs me what people will put their dog through to achieve a Facebook post or Halloween costume that makes their friends laugh. It bothers me that some people are getting rich off it.

It’s like we were blessed with an original Mona Lisa, and 85 percent of us want to draw a mustache on it slap it on their own personal billboard.

Somebody needs to grow up, and it’s not the dogs.

(Photos: At top, The Feast of Dives, about 1510–20, Master of James IV of Scotland, the J. Paul Getty Museum); lower, one of the many reproductions of Dogs Playing Poker, by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, other photos via Twitter)

Dogs: We feared, and ate them, and exploited them, before we befriended them

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OK, so it wasn’t love at first sight.

Before dogs became fully domesticated, there were long stretches of time that humans lived in tension with canines — both wolves and dogs — fearing them, eating them, and skinning them for their pelts.

New research published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports concludes the remains of dogs found in Western Europe shows that domestication was neither a quick nor tidy affair.

And one that obviously didn’t happen everywhere at once.

As a result, both wolves and dogs were hunted — dogs maybe even more because they were easier prey.

The research is outlined in a recent Smithsonian article.

The researchers analyzed stable isotopes in the remains. Stable isotopes are forms of atoms that leave behind signatures in biological samples, revealing details about diet, environment and other conditions.

Through them, scientist say, they can learn more about the changing nature of the relationship between humans and dogs between the Middle and Late Stone Age. Most researchers agree that the domestication of dogs dates back 15,000 years or more, and that it first occurred somewhere in Eurasia.

“At that time (the relationship) obviously fluctuated,” says Stefan Ziegler, a co-author of the study. “Sometimes people ate their dogs and sometimes they just used them as guard dogs and maybe even pets.”

The recent study could also provide a new tool for archaeologists trying to get a better grasp on whether newly discovered remains are those of wolves or dogs.

Archaeologists have traditionally based their belief on whether remains are those of a dog or a wolf by relying on bone size, but the stable isotopes may provide a better clue, the study says.

“The data show that dogs and wolves must generally have had a different diet, which is reflected in the altered isotope ratios. Dogs could occasionally access human food sources and their diet must have been either more omnivorous or monotonous than that of wolves, depending on the feeding regime,” the authors say in the study.

(Photo: Lateral view of a lumbar vertebra of a Late Mesolithic dog from Germany with several cut marks by a flint knife, by Jörg Ewersen, via Smithsonian)

Dogs in space: China reveals it tried it too

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Back in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, the race to space featured two main players — the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Both, in preparation for manned space flight, were experimenting with animals first — in the Soviet Union’s case, most notably dogs, the most famous of which was Laika, who died during the 1957 Sputnik 2 mission, but not until after becoming the first Earth creature to enter outer space.

Now it has been revealed that China was sending dogs into space, too, though its attempts were shrouded in secrecy.

In 1966 at a secret military base in southeast China, a small dog called Little Leopard was chosen from more than 100 other “volunteers” to be launched into orbit. Orbit wasn’t achieved, but at least Little Leopard survived.

The previously unknown details of China’s secret program to launch dogs into space more than half a century ago were revealed last week in an article published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The academy said that, to usher in the Year of the Dog, it wanted to “commemorate their legendary journey into the sky,” according to the South China Morning Post

Little Leopard was chosen from more than 100 puppies bred for the task, all the offspring of performers in an animal circus.

“They were chosen for their looks – the scientists insisted they had to be ‘cute’ — and put through a series of tests that included being shut in a room and subjected to noise at more than 100 decibels to see whether they could tolerate the sound of a rocket blast,” the article says.

Little Leopard and a three-year-old dog named Shan Shan — both mixed-breeds — were selected as the toughest and most intelligent of the group.

But one thing was overlooked by the scientists, and it became apparent soon after Little Leopard was hoisted to the rocket in a basket. He was afraid of heights.

The scientists struggled to get him in the hatch of the 20-story high rocket for take-off.

Once inside, he was attached to equipment to monitor his breathing, circulation, heart rate and body temperature at various stages of the flight. A sensor was inserted in the main artery of his neck to get precise readings of the blood supply to his brain.

Strapped tight inside the capsule, the article says, he “endured unspeakable pain and deafening noise in the 20 minutes that followed. The force of acceleration was up to 12 times the pull of gravity, causing pressure, or G-force, that prevented the dog’s heart from pumping enough blood to his head.”

While that monitoring equipment worked just fine, the rocket didn’t — not entirely. It failed to reach orbit.

chinapsacedogs2As it neared earth, the capsule was ejected and parachute-landed on a mountain not far from the launch site, where Little Leopard was fetched by a helicopter. A crowd gathered at the launch site to welcome his return, according to the academy.

Shan Shan’s journey into space, two weeks later, was even more problematic. It never reached orbit, either, and the equipment that was monitoring her vital signs malfunctioned.

Little Leopard and Shan Shan were the first and only large animals used by China to gather biological data for the human space flight program.

After the experiment, the Chinese space authorities decided to stop sending animals into space.

Both dogs were returned to Beijing where government officials presented them with honorary awards. It’s not known what happened to the dogs after that, and the Chinese space program bit the dust during the chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

(Photos: Chinese Academy of Sciences)