Dogs have a knack for helping us accomplish our goals. Somehow, they seem to know what those goals are without ever being told. Maybe, they know our goals better than we do.
With no apparent effort, they can help us accomplish our missions … whatever the mission … even missions that are completely opposite from one another.
Dogs, for instance, can help us stick to a routine, or get us out of a rut. (Ace has done both for me.)
They can enlarge our circles of friends, and — at those times solitude might be best — keep it from getting too lonely. (Ace has done both of those, too.)
And they can both keep us young and show us how to grow old.
That last trick, I think, is particularly impressive.
Dogs, when you think about it, show us how to live our lives (in the moment, with abandon), cope with our maladies (with brave perseverance) and die our deaths (with grace and dignity).
Between the examples they offer, the similarities between our species and the uncovered secrets dogs may still hold, it’s no surprise that science and medicine and more than a few other fields of study are increasingly turning to them for answers.
What dogs have to teach us about living a healthy life — some of it obvious (if we pay attention), some of it suspected and undergoing research — was the subject of an article last month in AARP Magazine.
As it noted, dogs, as they continue to evolve alongside us, are increasingly mirroring us, right down to getting the same diseases and disorders.
“… This evolution is ongoing, a process scientists call convergence: Human and canine genes, shaped by the environment we share, are evolving in lockstep. Today, along with home security and leftover disposal, dogs confer a host of wellness benefits, especially to kids and older people,” the article’s author, David Dudley, wrote. “People with dogs sleep better, weigh less and get more exercise than dog-free peers.”
“And there are the less tangible perks, the ones cataloged in Marley & Me–style books. This burgeoning “dogoir” literary genre revolves around the reductive but basically correct idea that a dog is foremost an instrument of personal growth: It exists to ease your existential anxieties, impart lessons about love and friendship, and teach you how to be a better person.”
But as noted by Dudley, who weaves the lessons his dog Foghat taught him into the article, that’s just the beginning of what dogs might have to share.
He cites a couple of research projects as examples of the possible answers dogs may hold when it comes to aging.
Neuroscientist Elizabeth Head is studying elderly beagles at the University of Kentucky in an attempt to determine why, by age 6 or 7, they start showing signs of the microscopic beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
About a third of the beagles will succumb to canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, about the same percentage of Americans over 85 who will get Alzheimer’s.
“It could be that living in our environment — our food, our water, our homes — has made dogs more vulnerable,” she says.
Head thinks dogs might hold the key to defeating it. Past studies, she notes, have demonstrated that an antioxidant-rich diet and “behavioral enrichment” — a course of memory drills and new-skills training — can significantly delay or diminish plaque development and memory impairments.
At the University of Washington, Daniel Promislow, an aging researcher (in both meanings of the phrase), has assembled a team to join in a Canine Longevity Consortium. Through a a grant from the National Institute on Aging, they’re working on the first national longitudinal study on aging in dogs, which will include looking at how dogs stay so seemingly happy and carefree as they advance in years.
On the downside, as we all know, they can relatively suddenly become frail, forgetful and sick — as was the case with Dudley’s dog, Foghat.
“…He entered his dotage in roaring good health. Around his 18th birthday, I Googled “oldest dog in the world,” because I started to wonder if he was closing in on a record. He was what gerontologists would call a successful ager.
“And then, seemingly overnight, he wasn’t. If you have to go — and you do — a swift slide into decrepitude is the preferred way. The phrase is “compression of morbidity,” when the infirmities of age are delayed until the bitter end. Still, it’s no picnic. The joints went first. He started limping after a vigorous bouncing-a-soccer-ball-off-his-nose session. Then he needed help climbing into the car or crawling under the bed, his favorite sleeping spot.”
As Foghat declined, Dudley wrote, his “senescence appeared as both a comfort and a warning of what awaits: Some fears and eccentricities will lift with the years; others will only deepen. One by one, the things you love to do become too difficult and slip out of your life.”
With his death, Dudley says, “I was struck by the strange new stillness — the foreign silence of a household without a dog. It was as if a machine that had been humming in the background for a long time had suddenly been switched off.”
Amid that silence, Dudley, like many other grieving dog owners, started quantifying what he learned from Foghat.
” …And now that I’m no longer young, and he’s dead, I’ll do my best to follow the path Foghat blazed into my life’s last half…” he wrote.
“So eat the best food you can afford. Go for a walk, even if it’s raining. Take a lot of naps. Keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh, so that the people you lick will not flinch. And when someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”
(Photo: Foghat, the author’s dog, in 1995 at age 1, left, and in 2012 at age 18; courtesy of David Dudley / AARP Magazine)
Posted by John Woestendiek February 16th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aarp, acceptance, aging, alzheimers, animals, answers, cognition, david dudley, dignity, dogs, dogs as teachers, elderly, enjoy, examples, learning, learning from dogs, life, old, pets, research, secrets, solutions
Dog blogger and broadcaster Steve Friess says he’s not going to spend $5,000 to put his dog though chemotherapy that could extend his life a year or more — and he’s going to try not to feel bad about it.
Even when he says his final goodbye to Jack in what could be less than a month.
In late October, Friess noticed the dog he’d adopted nine years ago was getting lethargic, and that his weight had dropped from his usual 11 pounds to around eight.
A vet diagnosed that Jack had an aggressive form of lymphoma that was spreading quickly through his body.
Friess did some research, checking with friends, and vets, and friends who were vets: One of the latter urged him to “do the full chemo protocol ASAP!” It could send Jack into remission for nine months, or 12 months, or even longer.
Friess and his partner researched, debated and decided against chemotherapy — not because it would be all that rough on the dog physically (they handle it much better than we do). The main reason, he admits, is the money, which, he also admits, they just doesn’t have.
There will likely be those who second guess Freiss, or maybe try to lay a guilt trip on him: Take out a loan, hit up your friends, get a second (or third) job, launch an online fundraising campaign, let me be the first to donate.
We’ve become a nation of such overflowing compassion for dogs, with such promising new medical technologies, and such handy online fundraising tools at our beck and call, that it’s easy to lose sight that decisions about life and death — both ours and our dogs — are still our own, and that throwing in the towel, for financial reasons, or others, isn’t always a shameful choice.
We suspect Friess will receive some support for his decision, but will hear from many more questioning it. His decision to write about it, as he did in a post for Time.com, is brave, but also an open invitation to second-guessers. In any case, the decision on what’s best for Jack should be (and has been) made by the person who knows him best, and deserves to be respected
Friess, a freelance writer and co-host of The Petcast, said neither his advisers nor his vet seemed to be trying to make him feel guilty about his choice. But, as is the way with guilt trips, we often don’t need a tour guide. Feelings of shame can start as soon as we ask our vet the question Friess did:
“How much will it cost?”
For Friess, the estimate was a minimum of $5,000 — more than he and his partner had.
“(It) means we have about 30 days. The end will probably come in time for holidays … ”We’ve received a lot of advice, both solicited and unwelcome, through social media. Nobody comes right out to say it, but the disappointment some express at our decision shows that they question our love for Jack. In an era when people spend big on animal clothes, artisanal foods and medical intervention, and when medical science makes it possible to spend $5,000 so Jack dies slightly later than sooner, there is pressure to go as far as we can.”
There’s one more twist. Friess and his partner are trying to adopt a human baby, and they’re working on saving the $15,000 fee for that.
“If that $5,000 could cure the cancer and restore Jack’s full life expectancy, maybe we’d do it,” he wrote. “Maybe. It certainly would be a tougher choice. But to buy a year during which we’d be waiting for his lymph nodes to resume their swell? We could endure the end stages either now or later.”
(Photo of Jack by Steve Friess)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 17th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cancer, care, chemotherapy, choices, costs, death, decisions, dog, dogs, financial, guilt, health care, jack, life, lymphoma, medical, options, ownership, pet, pets, shame, steve friess, technology, treatment, veterinary
Two University of Washington scientists think it might be possible to slow the aging process in canines and are launching a pilot study with 30 dogs to see if the drug rapamycin significantly extends their lifespans.
The researchers, using $200,000 in seed money from the University of Washington, plan to use pets, not laboratory animals, for the initial study, and recruit volunteer dogs — or at least dogs whose owners volunteer them — for larger scale studies in the future.
Daniel Promislow, an evolutionary geneticist, and Matthew Kaeberlein, a molecular biologist, say the study is aimed at determining whether rapamycin could lead to longer lives for dogs — as studies have shown is the case when it’s used on yeast, fruit flies, worms and mice.
“We’re not talking about doubling the healthy life spans of pets,” said Kaeberlein. “But at a minimum I would predict that you would get a 10 to 15 percent increase in average life span, and I think bigger effects are possible.”
In the pilot study, 30 large, middle-aged dogs will be involved — half receiving low doses of rapamycin, half receiving placebos.
The researchers say that subsequent studies will seek to enroll pet dogs from across the country.
Kaeberlein and Promislow hosted a meeting in Seattle last week where experts from across the country discussed the drug rapamycin and its possible effects on the health and longevity of dogs, the Seattle Times reported.
Currently used along with other medications to prevent rejection in organ-transplant patients, rapamycin has been called a promising anti-aging drug — though there have been no studies involving humans.
But almost 50 laboratory studies have shown that the compound can delay the onset of some diseases and degenerative processes and restore vigor to elderly animals, extending life spans by 9 to 40 percent.
Rapamycin functions, in part, by inactivating a protein that promotes cell growth. As a result, cells grow more slowly, which retards the spread of cancer.
Promislow, who has two elderly dogs of his own, noted that even if the drug doesn’t increase the life span of dogs, it could serve to keep them healthy longer. “We’re trying to understand why some dogs age better than others, and help all dogs age in a better way,” he said.
The drug has been shown to have serious side effects, including poor wound healing and an increased risk of diabetes, when used at the high doses required for organ transplant patients.
But the low doses used in anti-aging research with mice and other lab animals cause few side effects.
There have been no large-scale human trials. Studying how the drug affects dogs — who suffer many of the same old-age ailments as their masters — makes it possible to explore the possible benefits of rapamycin both more quickly and at a lesser cost.
If it does turn out to be a sort of fountain of youth — for dogs, humans, or both — the potential profits would be enormous.
“I think it’s worth a go, not just from what it can teach us about humans, but for the sake of the animals themselves,” said University of Alabama Biology Department Chairman Steven Austad, an expert in aging research who is not involved in the project. “It may not work in dogs, but if it did, boy, it’s going to be huge.”
According to the Seattle Times article, drug companies aren’t very interested in rapamycin because it’s no longer under patent.
But the researchers are hoping dog lovers, dog-food companies and some foundations might be willing to contribute to further research.
They’ve set up a website, dogagingproject.com,where people can donate and sign their dogs up to take part in the research.
“Given how I feel about my pets, I see this as a unique project where there’s a real potential for citizen science,” Kaeberlein said. “I think it would be great if pet owners who are really interested in improving the health of their animals would help fund this work.”
(Photos: UW scientists Matt Kaeberlein, with his dog Dobby, and Dan Promislow, with his dog Frisbee; by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 4th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, anti aging, anti aging drug, biology, cancer, cells, citizen science, compound, Daniel Promislow, death, dog, dogs, drug, drugs, extending, fountain of youth, funding, geneticist, health, ifespan, laboratory, life, lifespans, lives, longer, Matthew Kaeberlein, molecular, pets, rapamycin, research, sickness, study, university of washington
A golden retriever named Bretagne is all over the Internet today — today being 9/11 — looking much grayer around the muzzle than she did in 2001 and being described as the only search and rescue dog at the World Trade Center who is still living.
Whether that’s accurate depends on how you define “living.”
Not to pick nits, but there’s another dog, a German shepherd named Trakr — said by some to have found the last human survivor of the World Trade Center attack — who lives on … in a way.
Trakr was cloned in 2009, after his owner, a police officer turned actor, won an essay contest seeking the world’s most “cloneworthy” dog.
It’s a long story, one you can read about in the book, “DOG, INC.,” which recounts how dog cloning became a commercial enterprise.
Here’s the short version: Trakr was the partner of James Symington, a Halifax, Nova Scotia, police officer. When Trakr was retired, Symington claimed him as his own. On Sept. 11, 2001, after seeing news reports, Symington, without authorization from his department, took Trakr to the World Trade Center.
There, as Symington recounts it, Trakr discovered Genelle Guzman buried in the rubble — the last survivor found.
Others dispute his account.
Symington later moved to California to pursue a career in acting, taking Trakr with him. When an American company called BioArts announced it was holding a “Golden Clone Giveaway,” Symington submitted an essay, and won.
BioArts footed the bill (about $150,000) and sent samples of Trakr’s DNA to South Korean veterinarian Hwang Woo-Suk, who was on the team at Seoul National University that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy. He’d since been fired and opened his own laboratory, Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.
Trakr’s DNA was inserted into five “surrogate” egg cells, each of which was zapped with electricity and implanted into a different female dog.
In June 2009 five clone puppies were born and, a few months later, delivered to Symington. He named them Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Deja Vu, and said he planned to train them all as search as rescue dogs who would carry on Trakr’s legacy.
They seem to have fallen out of the limelight since then, and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated for a couple of years.
Earlier this year, the man who pushed dog cloning and sponsored the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” in an apparent turnaround, said cloning dogs — a service still offered in South Korea — was not a viable, profitable, or humane pursuit, noting that it took up to 80 dogs to clone just one.
Lou Hawthorne headed BioArts, and spearheaded the earliest (unsuccessful) efforts to clone dog at Texas A&M University. That research was funded by University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, who died last month.
While some of the main characters involved in dog cloning seem to be fading from public view, from Trakr’s clones to Sperling, dog cloning is not — Sooam Biotech is still carrying out clonings for customers who want duplicates of their dead or dying pets, at a price that has dropped to about $100,000.
But back to the dog who is in the news — Bretagne. She returned this week to the site of the former World Trade Center complex with her longtime handler and owner, where they were interviewed by Tom Brokaw for NBC’s Today Show.
Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”) is one of eight finalists for the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards, and later this month she’ll travel with her owner to Beverly Hills for the awards ceremony.
My hunch, and hope, is that Bretagne is not destined to be cloned, and that her owner realizes what many customers of dog cloning have not — every dog, and every person, is one of a kind. And one of a kind means one of a kind. That special something inside your dog can’t be re-created in a laboratory.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 11th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 9-11, 911, animals, bioarts, bretagne, cloned, clones, cloning, death, dog, dog cloning, dog inc., dogs, golden clone giveaway, james symington, laboratory, last, life, living, pets, re-creating, rescue, search, search and rescue, September 11, sooam, surviving, trakr, world trade center
The Nevada Supreme Court — no stranger to such matters — will decide whether Onion, the Mastiff mix who killed his owner’s grandson on his first birthday, should live or die.
The court will hear arguments — 30 minutes worth, it has specified — on July 3 before deciding whether the city of Henderson should be allowed to kill the dog.
Another option has been offered by the Lexus Project, a New York-based organization that provides legal representation to dogs.
The Lexus Project intervened in the case and wants to gain custody of Onion, then send him to live at a secure sanctuary in Colorado.
The 120-pound mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix killed Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan by biting him on the head the day of his first birthday party. Later that day, the owner turned Onion over to Henderson animal control officers, who planned to kill the dog in accordance with the city’s vicious-dog ordinance.
The city turned down the Lexus Project’s offer to take responsibility for the dog, and has fought its request to be awarded custody. Onion’s former owner now wants Lexus to have the dog, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
The court battle has been going on for a year now.
Last year, Clark County District Court Joanna Kishner ruled the city of Henderson could proceed with the dog’s execution.
The state Supreme Court issued a stay — it’s second in the case — until arguments could be heard.
Those will take place July 3 at 11:30 a.m.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 15th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 120 pounds, animal control, animals, colorado, death, defense, dog, dogs, euthanasia, execution, henderson, jeremiah, legal, lexus project, life, mastiff, mix, nevada, onion, pets, rhodesian, ridgeback, safety, sanctuary, supreme court, the lexus project
A rolling stone gathers no moss. We’re not rolling stones anymore.
During our year of travel, Ace I and I gathered few things that we did not immediately consume – simply because, living out of a Jeep Liberty, the bulk of it being occupied by a big dog, there was no space for them (though we did get that cowboy hat).
Once we came to a stop – for now, at least, settling into the home I was born in 57 years ago – we have again fallen under the tyranny of stuff.
For nine months, free of stuff’s burden, we bounced around the country, going to a new town every day or two, and during that time accumulated virtually nothing except friends and stories. After that, during our month-long stops – dwelling in a trailer park in the Arizona desert, an unfurnished house in Baltimore and the basement of a mansion in North Carolina – we slowly started to get new things. Now that we plan to stay put, for six months or more, in Winston Salem – and have hauled the contents of my storage unit down south – we are inundated.
But there’s something else I’ve come to realize, sifting through my personal effects, about stuff: Inanimate as it may be, it has a life of its own, and it often goes on a journey of its own, down a path different than ours. That’s how I end up with your stuff, and you end up with my stuff.
I’m amazed at how much of “my stuff” wasn’t originally my stuff, at how perhaps even the majority of my belongings – furniture in particular – was handed down, recycled, procured through Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores, or rescued from Dumpsters into which, in my view, it had been disposed of prematurely.
Our stuff, like people, like dogs, comes and goes from our lives. It moves on to the homes of friends, relatives, or complete strangers, via Goodwill, eBay or Craigslist (a good place to get stuff, just not dogs). It ends up, or so I like to think, where it’s most needed.
I told you last week about my mother’s desk, which became a home furnishing about the same time I did. It was in this house when I was born. I grew up with it in New York and, later, Texas. After my parents’ divorce, my mother kept it until she moved into a retirement community, and I hauled it up to Baltimore. Now, it has circled back to the first home it was ever in.
In my new place, the bed and coffee table I’m using are my cousin’s; the book I’m reading belongs to a Baltimore friend; the dining table I eat on was purchased, via Craigslist, from a local couple who started life together with it, but couldn’t take the fact that it only had three, not four, matching chairs. My clothes are in a dresser that I think once belonged to my father’s parents.
But most of my furniture — not counting that which came from Ikea or WalMart — came from my mother.
She revisited it all last week, coming over for dinner. My sofa, loveseat actually (though rarely used for that purpose, if you don’t count Ace), is one of two matching ones she had. When she moved into a retirement community, she only had room for one. The other went with me to Baltimore, but now sits in my new place, less than a mile away from its mate. In my place, too, are, among her former possessions, some marble egg-shaped bookends, a wingback chair and an old rocking chair she made a point of trying out one more time.
There’s also a large amount of stuff from my ex-girlfriend/still goodfriend, including five of her artworks, now prominently displayed. During my travels she kept some of my stuff. In my recent move, I got some of it back, left some with her, and took a few things she was looking to get rid of, including two bedside tables, some decorative pillows and this tray-like accessory that really pops, which I further like because the blue part reminds me of Ace’s tail.
I reclaimed my blender, for instance, but she kept my grill, my fire pit and, though I could never understand why she wanted it, a sad looking little platform I once built out of three pieces of plywood to make my computer monitor sit higher.
A few weeks ago, it became, with some slight modifications, a hutch for a group of new born bunnies found in her neighborhood.
Our stuff passes from parent to child, from brother to sister, from neighbor to neighbor, from friend to friend, and sometimes even makes it way from home office to animal kingdom.
About three months ago, I gave my friend Arnie in Baltimore my old, then in storage, bookcases. Just last week I sent him the hardware needed to put them together, found in the very last box I unpacked. The couple that moved into the Baltimore rowhouse I rented now has my entertainment center — solely because it was too darned heavy to move.
I guess we all go through life simultaneously shedding and gathering. I turn to Goodwill for both. It has lots of my stuff, and I have lots of their’s, because sometimes we part with stuff that, shortly thereafter, we find ourselves needing again. While staying for a month in an unfurnished rowhouse in Baltimore, I bought this lamp. If I sell it again, it will have to be for five dollars, because the price drawn on its silver base with black marker, I’ve found, is impossible to remove.
During my mother’s visit last week — and we’ll give you the full “reveal” of my new place next week – she also recognized a footstool that once belonged to her. It’s the only item that did not really fit in with my new color scheme — color schemes, though the phrase sounds nefarious, being another thing, like accessories that pop, I learned the importance of during my unfortunate addiction to HGTV.
My mother had re-covered the footstool decades ago with a shiny striped fabric of mauve and blue, so it would match a chair she had re-covered in the same material.
She agreed that, given my color scheme, I should re-cover it again.
“What’s underneath this cover?” I asked. She had no idea.
Removing a few tacks, I pulled it off to reveal the original cushion cover — a handmade needlepoint by her aunt “Tan,” whose grave we had visited and put flowers on the day before Easter.
At the time, not remembering her that well, I attempted to learn more about Tan, whose real name was Kathleen Hall. There’s a school named after her in Winston-Salem, but I could find little information about her on the Internet, as she died in 1983. Leaving a potted delphinium on her grave, I regretted that — even supplied some memories by my brother and my mother — I could reconnect with her only superficially.
It was a little eerie — her handiwork turning up in my house a week after I visited her grave. But it added a little more heritage to my new place, a link (real, not the Internet kind) to another family member, not to mention, though I’m no expert on it, what appears to be some damn good needlepoint.
And, in an added touch of serendipity, it matches my color scheme.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accessories, accumulate, accumulating, ace, animals, aunt, belongings, bookcases, color schemes, connections, craigslist, desk, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, dumpsters, family, footstool, furnishings, furniture, gathering, goodwill, hand me downs, home, junk, kathleen hall, life, loveseat, moss, moving, needlepoint, north carolina, path, pets, possessions, relatives, road trip, rocking chair, rolling stones, roots, serendipity, stuff, thrift stores, travels with ace
Molly, 29, followed, snagging her dog, hoisting her up on a plank beneath the pier and calling for help as she hung on to a pylon.
“I saw her go down into the water and I went after her,” Pfeiffer told the New York Daily News. “The current was pretty strong. She was going to drown … I grabbed Boogie and pulled her up on to one of the wooden supports on the pier. It was covered with algae and really slippery.”
Pfeiffer thanked the stranger who called for help: “He saved my life and Boogie’s.” She said she’d do the same thing again: “I love [Boogie] very much or I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”
Most Daily News readers feel the same way. In an online poll, the newspaper asked readers if they would jump into a river to save their pet.
Eighty percent answered “in a heartbeat.”
(Photos: From the New York Daily News)
Posted by John Woestendiek March 24th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, boogie, devotion, dives, dog, dogs, hudson river, leashed, life, molly pfeiffer, new york, pet owners, pets, pier 54, poll, rescue, risk, river, unleashed, wheaten terrier