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Tag: italy

A modern day Dr. Frankenstein?

A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.

We suggest they start with their own.

Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.

If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.

We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.

canaveroCanavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.

Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.

Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”

What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?

We’d say none.

Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.

He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.

He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.

Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.

His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.

In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.

South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.

It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.

In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.

Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?

Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.

But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.

Letting dogs help with the grocery shopping

cart2

I doubt all of America would be ready for this concept, but a grocery store in Italy is equipping shopping carts with designated dog compartments.

The owner of the Unes store in the city of Liano said he made part of his shopping cart fleet dog friendly so dog owners would no longer have to worry about leaving their pets in cars, or tied up outside the store.

“The owners of small dogs can now avoid having to leave them outside, giving them peace of mind to take all the time they need to make their purchases,” Gianfranco Galantini told La Repubblica.

cart“The initiative launched just recently, but we’ve already noticed how much our customers appreciate it.”

He fitted some of his fleet with a  partitioned section with a solid bottom, allowing dogs to sit at the front of the cart (where the view is best).

How many germs might a dog leave in a grocery cart? Probably far fewer than nose-picking toddlers do.

Small dogs are legally allowed to enter stores like Unes as long as they are kept under control.

Galantini said the adapted carts are cleaned after each use — and so far there have no problems or complaints.

To the contrary, the carts have been so popular with customers that the grocery chain is considering introducing them at other branches.

(Photo: Lucia Landoni / La Repubblica)

Fireworks: Do we really need the bang?

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There are only two possible explanations for this stand I am about to take:

One, I have come around to my dog’s way of thinking on the matter of fireworks, which is that they are to be feared, freaked out by, and avoided at all costs, even if it means hiding in the bathtub.

Two, I have become a certifiable old fart.

Oh wait, there’s a third possibility: Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

I am speaking here of the entire gamut of fireworks, from big sanctioned municipal events to small backyard displays to solo performances by those who feel the need to mindlessly fire a gun into the air while intoxicated.

With New Year’s behind us, and the Fourth of July ahead, I pose the question: Do we really need any of it? And, if so, is it possible to have the spectacle without the noise?

There’s a town in Italy, called Collecchio, that has reportedly introduced legislation requiring people to use “silent fireworks” out of respect to animals, for whom the noise causes some serious stress.

That’s an idea worth importing.

Other than a reference on a travel website, I couldn’t find a lot of information about the proposal on the Internet. Then again, on the Internet, good and quiet ideas tend to get buried by loud, stupid and flashy ones.

Nor could I find any truly “silent” fireworks. There are a few videos on YouTube that claim to feature “silent” or “quiet” fireworks, but the companies behind them seem to be promising more than they are delivering.

In the UK, this past November, Birmingham Botanical Gardens offered a silent fireworks show they promised would be “ideal for the little ones,” but it was followed by complaints from parents who said they were forced to leave because the loud noises frightened their children, according to a BBC report.

Why is it society has been able to come up with the technology to put silencers on guns, but not on fireworks?

Fireworks have been an American tradition for more than 200 years, and any voice calling for putting a muzzle on them — much like any voice calling for gun control — is likely to be blasted as unpatriotic.

For dogs, they are more than just annoying. They confuse and stress out many dogs, often leading them to run away, sometimes getting hit by cars in the process. They have negative effects on birds and other animals, too, not to mention air quality and all the injuries to humans the do-it-yourself variety cause.

But the spectacle, and the tenuous link to patriotism, somehow rate as more important than all that.

Even in an age of heightened fears over terrorists, we still feel the need to see and hear the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air. We need to see and hear what is, in effect, a re-creation of war.

Fireworks displays are like Donald Trump — big and loud and in your face, full of bangs, booms and bombast, a spewing spectacle that prides itself in being outrageous and pushing the limits.

I would not mind in the least if they both went away. But neither is likely to, even though there are quieter, saner alternatives.

Laser light shows are one, but they don’t seem to have wowed us like traditional fireworks displays.

When an air pollution control district in California offered three towns $10,000 to call off their fireworks shows and replace them with laser light shows in 2012, none of the towns accepted the offer.

“You can’t have a Fourth of July show with just light beams,” one fair official said. “It would have been two minutes and the kids would have been done and gone.”

Another California town, Morro Bay, tried a light show in 2009 — due to predictions of a foggy night — but says it won’t do it again.

“It was like a bad Pink Floyd concert,” one official said.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as silent fireworks or, for that matter, such a thing as a bad Pink Floyd concert. But both my dog and I — while not being so brash as to suggest celebrating peace instead of war — cast a vote for quieter celebrations.

Here’s a not entirely quiet example, from a company that provides “quiet” fireworks for weddings and other events:

(Photo: Freestockphotos.biz)

It’s safe to say Walter likes the sea

Not every yellow Lab loves the water.

But those that do tend to do so with that kind of all-out, make-the-most-of-the-moment glee that dogs so often display (and we humans could learn from).

This video — made with a Go Pro camera strapped to his back — shows Walter barreling own a path to the Ionian Sea in Sicily, from the moment he is unleashed until he takes his plunge, narrowly missing taking a few humans in with him.

I try to refrain from ascribing emotions to dogs — not because I don’t think they have any, but because we mere humans never really know what’s in their heads and hearts.

In this case, though, I think it’s safe to say Walter likes the sea.

It’s also safe to say people like watching Walter’s mad dash: It garnered nearly 3 million views in its first three days on YouTube.

Today is my birthday, and here’s my birthday resolution: Be more like Walter.

Who put a noose around my dog’s neck?

acelookalike

A friend recently emailed me this poster she came across online — because the dog with the noose around his neck is the spitting image of my dog, Ace.

Or is it Ace?

For a while, I thought it was my dog, and wondered whether someone had copied one of the many photos of him that have appeared on ohmidog! and elsewhere, and then photoshopped a noose around his neck.

It reminded me of a photo I took of him in Montana about seven years ago, but that was noose-less, and  in the middle of a snowstorm (hence the downward cast face). I guess snowflakes can be removed as easily as nooses can be added, though.

I have no problem with the message on the poster, even with its misplaced comma: “Abandoning a dog, means killing it.” 

That is, usually, the case.

snow 030xAnd I have no objection to Ace’s image being used for a good cause.

But, if it is my dog, and my picture, someone should have checked with me first before looping a noose around his neck — even if it was done only through photo manipulation.

Is it Ace? I’m not sure. (That’s him to the left.)

The dog in the poster looks like him, with his big head, little ears, and high-rise legs. And that seemingly contemplative pose is one Ace strikes frequently.

Then again, the dog in the photo might be just a little grayer around the muzzle than he is.

To try to get to the bottom of it, I turned to tineye.com a reverse image search engine that allows you to play detective on the Internet by uploading a photo and getting a list of websites on which it has appeared.

It, after searching 5.283 billion images in an amazing 0.001 seconds — which is harder than I will ever work — found six results.

Three of them were in English, and two were this French version:

frenchacelookalike

Another one was in Italian, and it was the one that had been on the web the longest.

I clicked on that link and it took me to an Italian government webpage, listing public service campaigns the government had sponsored over the years.

The Ace lookalike appeared in a 2011 campaign aimed at informing the public that abandoning dogs is illegal, and that abandoned dogs usually die.

acelookalikeitaly

The slogan,”Chi abbandona un cane lo condanna,” means roughly that one who abandons a dog is condemning that dog to death.

The campaign made use of billboards and TV and radio spots, with most of the publicity coming at peak times of holiday travel. As a computer-translated version of the web page explained:

“It was decided to carry out the campaign at this time in view of the fact that the problem of stray dogs is sharpened so evident during the summer, when they touch the peaks of dropouts due to the difficulty of managing the presence of the animal in a recreation area.”

I’m sure it makes more sense in the original Italian.

What did come across clearly were the potential punishments for dog abandonment — a year in prison, or a fine of up to 10,000 Euros.

(Not a bad idea for this country to try, given recent instances like that doofus in Denver, or that revolting case in Parker County, Texas.)

If that is Ace helping make the Italian public more aware of the problem, I’m proud to have him serve in that capacity. If it’s not, I can only assume it’s another Rottweiler-Chow-Akita-pitbull mix).

With Ace being a mix of four breeds (according to DNA tests) it’s not as common as it is with purebreds to come across nearly exact replicas of him. But I have seen a few doppelgangers.

One thing I found while researching “DOG, INC.,” my book on commercial dog cloning, was that — rather than spending $100,000 to have your dog replicated in a laboratory in South Korea — you can generally find a lookalike in a shelter, if not in your hometown, probably not too far away.

I’m guessing Ace is not the poster boy in this case, and I’m assuming that Italy used an Italian dog for its public service announcement.

As for the Ace photo it reminds me of, it’s on my other computer — the one that’s not working right now — so I can’t call it up and compare. And the post I may have used it in apparently tunneled its way out of the Internet (which is the only way of escaping). 

If anyone in Italy knows about the dog in the photo — assuming an English to Italian computer-translation of this account makes any sense at all (and I bet it doesn’t) — get in touch with me at ohmidog@triad.rr.com.

Grazie.

Tell-tail signs: How to read your dog’s wag

wag

I’ve got to admit I’ve never paid much attention to which way Ace’s tail is wagging — mostly to the right, or mostly to the left.

More often, it just seems to go back and forth, one side to the other, which is kind of the definition of wag.

But researchers in Italy, who first reported that the prominent direction of the wag signifies whether a dog is experiencing positive or negative feelings, now say other dogs are aware of this subtle distinction, and apparently have been for some time, indicating they — dogs — are much more on top of things than researchers.

Researchers at the University of Trento, in a new study, had dogs watch videos of other dogs wagging their tails. They found, according to a study reported in the journal Current Biology, that dogs watching another dog whose tail is wagging left  showed signs of anxiety, including a higher heart rate. When watching a tail wag right, they remained calm.

When watching “Two Broke Girls” the dogs asked if they might please leave the room. (Not really.)

Returning to seriousness, the Italian researchers first reported in 2007 that dogs convey a wide array of emotions through the tail wag — not just happiness. A wag to the left indicates negative emotions; a wag to the right indicates positive ones. The directions are as seen when standing behind a dog.

In the earlier study, 30 dogs were placed, one at a time, in a large box surrounded with black plastic to prevent any visual stimulus (except maybe to dogs who find black plastic stimulating). The dogs were then shown a stimulus for 60 seconds  — a dominant Belgian Malinois, a cat in a cage, their owners, and a strange human, by which we only mean one they hadn’t met.

A system for measuring the tail movements of each dog was established — far too complex to go into here. Suffice to say, as the scientists put it:

wagchart“Tail wagging scores associated with the different stimuli were analyzed from video-recordings. Positions of the tail were scored every 10 seconds by superimposition on the computer screen of a cursor on the long axis of the body: the maximum extents of the particular tail wag occurring at each 10 second interval was recorded. Using single frames from video recording two angles were identified with respect to the maximum excursion of the tail to the right and to the left side of the dog’s body. Tail wagging angles were obtained with reference to the axes formed by the midline of the dog’s pelvis — the segment extending lengthwise through the dog’s hips, drawn from the largest points as seen from above and the axes perpendicular to it.”

When faced with their owner, dogs exhibited a “striking right-sided bias in the amplitudes of tail wagging.”  Less robust right-sided wags were observed also when the dogs were shown unfamiliar humans. When faced with a cat, dogs showed very reduced tail wagging, but still a slight bias favoring the right side. Seeing a dominant unfamiliar dog led the dogs in the study to wag more to the left.

The first study reported: “How far asymmetric tail-wagging responses are associated with postural asymmetry in preparation to the stimuli is difficult to say.” (You can say that again)  “It is likely that control of the flexure of the vertebral column is the same for the tail as well as the rest of the column, but the method we used for scoring tail-wagging responses and the panels flanking the body of the animal in the test-cage minimized any effect of asymmetric posture associated with spine bending.”

I’ve got to wonder which way the dogs’ tails wagged — or if they tucked them between their legs — when they were listening to the scientists talk.

The researchers stop short of saying wagging tails are a mode of communication between dogs.

“This is something that could be explained in quite a mechanistic way,” said Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist and an author of both studies. “It’s simply a byproduct of the asymmetry of the brain.” Dogs, he explains, have asymmetrically organized brains, like humans (or at least most of them): “The emotions are associated presumably with activation of either the right or left side of brain,” he said. “Left-brain activation produces a wag to the right, and vice versa.”

But it would seem to me that if one dog is moving his tail, and another is drawing conclusions from that motion, as the scientists say is the case, that’s communication — perhaps even a clearer form thereof than that to which the scientists are prone.

(Photo: Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari)

And wait until you try his tabby-oca pudding

Italy’s state-run RAI TV has suspended popular cooking show host Beppe Bigazzi for touting cat stew as a Tuscan delicacy.

The suspension is for an unspecified amount of time,” the Associated Press reports.

Bigazzi, 77, who hosts a popular morning program that offers food tips and recipes, said he had enjoyed cat stew many times. When that startled his female co-host,  Elisa Isoardi, Bigazzi defended his culinary tastes, noting Italians eat rabbit, chicken and pigeons. Horse meat also is sold in Italian shops.

“Cat, soaked for three days in the running water of a stream comes out with its meat white, and I assure you I have eaten it many times,” he said on the program. “Now there will be letters from nature lovers. Why don’t they defend rabbits?”

His critics included Health Ministry Undersecretary Francesca Martini, who said Italian law protects pets from mistreatment and that Bignazzi’s comments contradict the growing public sensibility toward animals in Italy.