We humans, with our vastly superior intellects, and being the far more evolved and civilized species, don’t need no stinkin’ animals to show us how to live life.
You’d think not — especially with Christmas approaching. Between all the peace, good will and fellowship the season supposedly brings, and all the attention, with his death, on Nelson Mandela’s legacy of kindness and forgiveness, we shouldn’t be needing, right now, any furry creatures reminding us bigger-brained, two-legged types how to get along with each other.
Yet, in the past month, they seem to keep doing so — almost as if they think the message has failed to get through.
First, it’s a goose and a dog partnering up in the UK. Then it’s an elk and a dog becoming backyard playmates in Washington state. Both pairs were shown at play, raising the question, at least in some heads, if animals of different sizes and species — like elephants and dogs, or cats and crows – can get along with each other, why can’t we?
Now comes this latest pair, a fox and a dog in Norway who met in the woods last summer and became fast friends.
Norwegian photographer Torgeir Berge was out for a walk with his four-year-old German shepherd, Tinni, when they encountered an abandoned baby fox. Since then the fox, which Berge named Sniffer, has regularly met up with them on their trips through the woods, and Berge has been taking pictures of the get-togethers.
Now he’s working on a book about the unlikely friendship with writer Berit Helberg, who told TODAY.com that the fox was probably an orphan whose mother had died, and was probably seeking food, help and company.
“Not many people are privileged to see and enjoy a friendship like this, but Torgeir Berge has both seen them in action and gotten the opportunity to catch this in images that don’t need words,” Helberg wrote in post. They hope the story will raise awareness for animal rights and the conditions that some animals are forced live in as a result of the fur trade, Helberg said.
Yes, animals of different species far more often kill and eat each other to survive. And these unlikely interspecies friendships, seemingly choreographed from the grave (or wherever he is) of Walt Disney, are the exception. It’s not like animals got together and said ”Let’s rethink this whole survival of the fittest thing, and live together in harmony, eating wild berries.”
It was from animals, after all, that we most likely learned that mindset — that the world belongs to the fittest, richest or whoever roars the loudest.
Heartwarming as these unlikely friendship stories are, they’re not messages being sent to humans by animals.
But, particularly at Christmas, they are messages worth receiving, and learning from.
(Photos by Torgeir Berge, via Today.com)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 10th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, book, cat and crow, christmas, dog, dog and elephant, dog and elk, dog and fox, dog and goose, elephant, elk, fox, fox and dog, friends, goose, humans, interspecies, kindness, love, man, mandela, norway, pets, photographer, photography, relationships, society, torgeir berge, unlikely friendships, wildlife
When a German shepherd mix named Rex arrived at Puriton Horse and Animal Rescue in the UK, he wanted nothing to do with anyone. He’d been found tethered in a junkyard eight years ago, and had been kicked out of at least one shelter since then after biting a staff member.
Geraldine the goose wasn’t exactly the picture of warmth, either, when she arrived at the same shelter three months ago, surrendered by owners who could no longer cope with her.
Individually, in their lives up to that point, the dog and the goose were given labels like vicious, mean and nasty. Neither seemed particularly thrilled with humans, members of their own species, or those belonging to others.
But when the two cranky creatures were given a chance to hang out together, something magical happened.
The snarly 11-year-old dog and the domineering goose are now best of friends. Staff at the sanctuary believe they’ve brought out the softer side in each other, The Daily Express reports.
“Normally any bird that crossed his path would have been eaten by now. He’s that kind of dog …” said Sheila Brislin, who runs the sanctuary near Bridgwater, Somerset.
Brislin said there was some chasing and squawking when they were first introduced, but Geraldine “stood up for herself and that was that. They just fell for each other.”
“I’ve been doing rescue work since 1997 and seen all kinds of strange animal behavior, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” she added.
Brislin said Rex was rescued from his previous shelter, where he was going to be put down after a biting incident. The dog seemed to immediately mellow once he was introduced to Geraldine.
Now they take walks together, and sleep together in Rex’s bed every night.
“It’s so comical to see them because they love each other to bits,” Brislin said. “She just runs around alongside him all day long and whenever we take him for a walk in the woods she has to come too … They are very affectionate and he’s always licking her head and kissing her.”
(Photos: SWNS via The Daily Express)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 29th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, cranky, dogs, friends, geraldine, geraldine and rex, german shepherd, goose. dog, interspecies, love, mean, nasty, pets, puriton horse and animal rescue, rescue, rex, rex and geraldine, sanctuary, shelter, soft side, together, togetherness
Here is how I greeted my little brother when — after decades of living on opposite sides of the country — he moved to the same North Carolina town I live in:
With a quick one-armed hug, a pat on the back, a bagful of barbecue and some words to the effect of, “Howya doin’?”
Here is how I greeted his dog, a yellow Lab named Roscoe:
With a welcome sign, balloons, flowers, treats, oodles of hugs, playing tug of war, copious amounts of head-petting, belly rubs, laying on the floor and spooning, some of the aforementioned barbecue, and words to the effect of “Roscoe! Roscoe! Hi buddy! You’re a good boy! What a good boy! Yes, you’re a good boy! You’re just a good, good boy! Yes, you are! Yes, you are!”
Sometimes I think dogs were created so that men might be able to show emotions.
I am happy as heck that, after 40 years living in different states, my brother and I are occupying the same one. I freely admit that. But do I show him that? Of course not. I reserve my shows of affection for his dog. Maybe that’s what most men do. At least it’s what this one does.
In greeting a friend I haven’t seen for years, in visiting my father, or mother, or sister, I tend to act, on the surface, as if I just saw them yesterday. I don’t get teary, or engage in long embraces, or scream or jump up and down. I don’t effervesce, for my personality is a decidedly non-carbonated one.
I don’t get as visibly excited about people as I do dogs, but I think the reasons for that go beyond the fact that I’m of the non-bubbly male persuasion.
It’s only natural to have some inhibitions with humans. For one thing, you can’t automatically, 100 percent, trust them. For another, we tend to worry what another human might think of what we do or say. But mostly, they don’t reciprocate quite like dogs do. No other animal does.
If a long lost friend were to madly wag his tail upon seeing me again, it might be different. That might lead me to rub his belly, making him show even more delight, leading me to wrestle on the floor with him, or play some tug of war with a pillow. But being human, we’re content with a hug or handshake, and then using our words, which we — especially us men — generally keep a leash on as well.
When a dog makes me feel all warm and mushy inside, not only can I let it out; it’s hard not to. Scientists would probably say it’s because loving on a dog triggers the release of some chemical holed up in some body part.
But I think it’s mostly just human nature. We all want somebody to lay some love on. Dogs are the easiest creatures on which to lay it, and the most likely to clearly and immediately show they appreciate it. Dogs aren’t going to reject you, or judge you – no matter what stupid thing you say, or what sort of baby talk you’re babbling.
Somehow, with dogs, that dividing line between the love you feel, and the love you feel comfortable exhibiting, doesn’t exist.
But back to Roscoe, and, oh yeah, my brother.
His partner, James, moved here for a new job about a year ago, and he’d been sorely missing Roscoe, who he considers his dog. This week they all drove from Arizona. Roscoe, despite some concerns about how he’d do on the road, behaved wonderfully and seemed to like the cross-country trip.
They arrived in Winston-Salem earlier this week and Roscoe seems to be adjusting nicely, though he did run through a sliding screen door, not realizing it was there. (Did I mention he was a yellow Lab?)
I visited as they continued unpacking Tuesday, and on the ride home started thinking about the disparity between the love I showed Roscoe and the love I showed my brother (even though, I’d argue, bringing barbecue shows pretty much love). I didn’t exhibit, or verbally express, how happy I am he’s here.
I only showed Roscoe.
I’m that way with all dogs — even those I’ve just met. If I were to behave when meeting a human as I do upon meeting a dog, I would probably be arrested. But I can’t help but wonder whether I should come a little closer to that, and let my feelings out more when around humans, especially those I hold dear.
Maybe that’s another among the infinite number of purposes dog serve: to be surrogate recipients of the excess, bottled up, or otherwise unexpressable love that we — or at least some among us — hold back.
Posted by John Woestendiek October 11th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, brother, dog, dogs, emotions, expressing, family, feelings, home, labradors, love, men, moving, pets, roscoe, surrogates, yellow lab
When it comes to animals, there are those softies among us who see nearly everything they do – especially dogs — as magical and motivated by love.
Then there are those – generally not ohmidog! readers — who see dogs as unfeeling beasts concerned only with their next meal and their own comfort.
When a dog does something that seems kind, noble or otherwise amazing, members of that first group will “ooh” and “ah,” while members of the second will say “so what?” Anything a dog does, in their view, is explainable solely by instincts, training and will to survive. That way dogs snuggle with you at night? They are just trying to keep warm. Those goo goo eyes adoringly staring at you? They’re just trying to manipulate you into providing a treat.
For sure, the first group may often read too much into the motivations behind a dog’s behavior. But, just as surely, the second group sometimes isn’t reading en0ugh.
I, being author of a blog on the amazing things dogs do, am clearly a member of the first group. But, also being a realist and even more of a cynic, I can sometimes – just sometimes – see the second group’s point. As soon as I watched this video, for instance — once my “awwwwwwww” came to the final “w” — I started wondering about the motivations of the lion and dachshund, and, realistically, who was getting exactly what out of this relationship.
Bonedigger, the lion, and Milo, the dachshund, live together at Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla. Milo was among a litter of puppies living a the park when Bonedigger, who suffers from a bone disease, arrived as 4-week-old cub. The pups and lion eat together every day.
After the meal, Milo licks Bonedigger’s teeth clean.
I’d venture Milo is not exhibiting love — or at least not love alone — when he sticks his head into the mouth of a lion. I’d submit, too, that Bonedigger’s dental hygiene is not Milo’s top concern. (Then again, you never know.)
More likely, Milo is after a few final morsels, and Bonedigger, for his part, cooperates because he appreciates the attention, or the gum massage, or having a wiener dog who serves as his own personal flossing aide.
Park president Joe Schreibvogel says the dogs and lion have eaten together since they were youngsters. They also cuddle with each other, and sometimes even mimic each other. It’s as if, species differences aside, they’ve become a pack.
“The dogs thought it was just a big puppy and have loved each other since,” Schreibvogel, who goes by the name “Joe Exotic,” told Today. The video of the lion and the dog has brought some needed attention to the Oklahoma zoo, which suffered about $18,000 in damage during the recent tornadoes. A spokesperson for the zoo says they’ve taken in about 100 homeless animals — domestic and exotic — since then.
But back to Milo and Bonedigger, and the question at hand.
Who’s getting what from this unlikely inter-species relationship, and who is benefitting most – the tooth-sucking canine, or the massive feline, who, rather than roaring at the little dog, says “ahhh” (or is it awwwww?) and lets him have at it?
My guess, is it’s a third species, one whose members sometimes over-analyze, and sometimes under-analyze, but still haven’t loss the ability to be amazed; one whose members – just as Bonedigger seems to appreciate a good tooth-licking — like to have their hearts warmed now and then.
Judging from the half million views this video has gotten in the past month, I’d say it ’s us.
Posted by John Woestendiek June 17th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: amazing, animals, behavior, bonedigger, dachshund, dachshunds, dog, dogs, emotions, exotic, exotic animal park, garold wayne, human, humans, inter-species, interspecies, joe exotic, joe Schreibvogel, lion, lions, love, loyalty, milo, motivation, oklahoma, pets, relationships, symbiotic, trust, unlikely, video, view, zoo
In fact, he’d prefer it if you’d keep your dog to yourself — out of the park he wants to read in, away from the cafe where he enjoys his Frappuccino, and definitely not in the gym in which he works out.
It was a case of the latter that triggered a well-written, semi-playful, anti-dog diatribe he wrote for Slate last week.
Manjoo argued that dogs are getting too many privileges. He pointed out that not everybody enjoys their presence, cited health hazards they could conceivably pose, and suggested all those people who take their dogs everywhere start leaving them at home.
Not sharing one’s dog? To me, that’s the equivalent of hiding a Van Gogh behind an ironing board in the basement. Or putting a newfound cure for cancer in a time capsule. Or shielding your eyes — just to be safe — from a blazing sunset.
Still, we’d defend Manjoo’s preference to live life without somebody else’s dog in his face. That’s his right. It’s his loss, but it’s also his right.
Manjoo is Slate‘s technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. So it doesn’t surprise me — he being caught up in all things digital — that he has failed to catch on to or be captivated by the wonder of dogs.
Microchipping aside, dogs and technology are best kept separate. They don’t always get along, maybe because they are the antithesis of each other. Technology may be the cure for everything, but dogs are the cure for technology. We’ll get back to this point, but first let’s look at what Manjoo said — after an unwanted encounter with a Doberman inside his gym.
“The dog came up to me, because in my experience that’s what dogs do when you don’t want them to come up to you. They get up real close, touching you, licking you, theatrically begging you to respond… I guess I was fairly sure he wouldn’t snap and bite me, but stranger things have happened — for instance, dogs snapping and biting people all the time.
“Why was this dog here? And why was no one perturbed that this dog was here?
“…No one was asking because no one could ask. Sometime in the last decade, dogs achieved dominion over urban America. They are everywhere now, allowed in places that used to belong exclusively to humans, and sometimes only to human adults: the office, restaurants, museums, buses, trains, malls, supermarkets, barber shops, banks, post offices… Dogs are frequently allowed to wander off leash, to run toward you and around you, to run across the baseball field or basketball court, to get up in your grill. Even worse than the dogs are the owners, who seem never to consider whether there may be people in the gym/office/restaurant/museum who do not care to be in close proximity to their dogs. …”
Manjoo admits to not being a dog person, but at least — unlike most anti-dog types — he has a sense of humor about it.
“It’s not that I actively despise mutts; I just don’t have much time for them, in the same way I don’t have time for crossword puzzles or Maroon 5,” he writes.
“But here’s my problem: There’s now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to reckon with the idea that there are people who aren’t enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks.”
And seldom, he points out, does anyone whose dog accosts him say they’re sorry.
“… I can promise you she won’t apologize for the imposition. Nor will she ask you if you mind her dog doing what he’s doing. Nor will she pull on its leash, because there won’t be a leash, this being an office, where dogs are as welcome as Wi-Fi and free coffee.”
The same holds true, he notes, at coffee houses.
Here we should point out that the dog pictured atop this post is mine, and that, in the photo, Ace is enjoying an iced coffee product at Starbucks, offered to him by a customer whose behavior indicated she wanted him to visit her table.
When I take Ace to a Starbucks, or most anywhere else, it’s usually pretty apparent who wants to meet him and who doesn’t, and I restrain him accordingly. I don’t have to compile any data or crunch any numbers, I can just tell. It’s not brain surgery, or computer science.
Even though most people go to Starbucks for the free Wi-Fi, or the expensive coffee, I’d estimate about one of two customers wants to meet my dog. Ace — and this isn’t true of every dog — has a way of figuring that out himself, and generally will avoid those who show no interest in him, unless they are in the process of eating a muffin or pastry, in which case he’s willing to overlook the fact they may not be dog lovers.
What makes the numbers even more impressive is that 8 of every 10 customers at your typical Starbucks are under the spell of their computer device and not at all cognizant of what’s going on around them.
Ace is sometimes able to break that spell, at least he does for me.
As for me, I’d rather have access to Fido then Wi-Fi anyday. Fido will soothe me. Wi-Fi will likely, at some point, make me angry and frustrated. Fido will focus me. Wi-Fi will distract me. Wi-Fi will accost me with uninvited and intrusive messages, and send me alerts, and remind me of all the things I need to do today. Fido will remind me all those things aren’t really that important and can wait until tomorrow. Wi-Fi will take me out of the moment; Fido will keep me in it. Wi-fi has no soul. Fido does, and his presence allows our souls – those of us who have them — to be refreshed. Dogs keep us from becoming an entirely manic society.
No one, if I have my laptop on, will want to come up and pet it, except maybe Farhad Manjoo, who — while not having the least bit of interest in my dog — is probably curious about my gigabytes and apps.
On this much I will agree with Manjoo: There are dog owners who seem unaware that not everybody will delight in their dog, oblivious to the fact that some might find their dog annoying and intrusive. Similarly, though, there are parents of children who don’t realize not everybody will delight in their antics. Similarly, too, there are grown-up people who fail to realize that they themselves are annoying and who we’d prefer not to have inflicted upon us.
Unfortunately, we can’t just ban them. Our choices are limited. We could work on being tolerant – of all ages, sizes, shapes and species, despite their noise, intrusiveness and abrasiveness levels. Or we could go somewhere else. Or we could complain.
Sometimes, when visiting a Starbucks or other coffee place, I wonder if I should lodge an official complaint with management about Wi-Fi — objecting to its omnipresence, and how it seems to be turning people into keyboard-pushing zombies.
“No,” I’d say, “I’m not technically allergic to it, but I’m uncomfortable with it near. I’ve had some bad experiences with it. Sometimes it bites people when they least expect it, and I’m pretty sure it harbors germs.”
“But it’s wireless,” the manager might say.
“Exactly,” I’d say with a huff. “Put a leash on it.”
Posted by John Woestendiek May 14th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, apps, behavior, cell phones, coffee, common sense, computers, culture, devices, digital, dislike, dog, dog friendly, dogs, dominion, farhad manjoo, fear, gyms, hate, laptops, leash, leashed, love, manners, parks, pets, place, privileges, public, rights, slate, society, starbucks, technology, unleashed
If you think dogs don’t really love, and don’t really mourn, watch this and think again.
Bella, the dog, is dealing with the loss of her good friend Beavis, a beaver.
According to Bella’s owner, who posted the video on YouTube, Bella and Beavis played ball together, shared living quarters, and ate together. “They lived and loved together for quite a while. Beavis died this morning, and Bella has been in mourning for hours.”
While two other dogs that show up in the video don’t seem particularly bereft, Bella appears — at least to our human eyes — to be taking the death of Beavis pretty hard, licking and nuzzling the motionless beaver and remaining at its side.
Looks an awful lot like grieving to me.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 29th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, beaver, beavis, bella, bella and beavis, bella mourns beavis, death, dog, dog and beaver, dog mourns beaver, dogs, emotions, friends, friendship, grief, grieves, interspecies, love, mourning, pets, sad, video
Ace and I will be appearing at the Aperture Cinema in Winston-Salem this week for a group discussion following the showing of the animated movie, “My Dog Tulip,” based on J.R. Ackerley’s memoir of his relationship with his dog.
I’ll also be talking about, selling and signing my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
If you’re wondering what the human-dog bond, or a memoir about that, have in common with cloning, the answer is:
For, in addition to the profits foreseen by entrepreneurs, it was that bond – tighter-than-ever as the 21st Century arrived– that sparked the attempt to clone dogs, prompted customers to sign up for it and led to the emergence of a fledgling, and highly questionable, pet cloning industry.
And what, after all, is a dog clone but a living, breathing, laboratory re-creation of the past — a memoir you can pet?
The first dog whose cloning was attempted by U.S. scientists, in fact, was a border collie mix who belonged to — you guessed it — a memoir writer. Missy, as it turned out, wasn’t the first dog cloned. South Korean scientists accomplished that first with an Afghan hound, whose clone would be named Snuppy. But Missy was eventually cloned — more than five times.
Cloning wasn’t available in J.R. Ackerley’s day (the British writer died in 1967), but given the love he expressed for his German shepherd, given his many unsuccesful attempts to breed her to another purebred “Alsatian,” given the void she filled in his life and the one her passing left in it, he might have considered it, if it had been.
“Tulip,” whose real name was Queenie — publishers opted to change it, fearing its gay connotations might be too titillating for stuffy old 1950′s England – spent 14 years with Ackerley, and according to some accounts he never quite got over her death.
“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer,” he says in the book, written while she was still alive.
The movie — though, like the book, it doesn’t shy away from dogs’ bodily functions — is charming and charmingly animated, drawn and directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, and narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley. It also features the voices of Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave.
It tells the story of a man who, having all but given up on finding an “ideal friend” in the human world, finds one in a canine — the first dog he’s had in his life.
I’ll be leaving my ideal friend home tonight, but Ace, if he feels up to it, is scheduled to join me at the theater Wednesday night.
The movie starts at 8 p.m., both nights, with the discussion following. The Aperture Cinema is at 311 W. 4th St. in downtown Winston-Salem.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 22nd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, alsatian, animals, aperture, bond, book, book signing, cinema, cloning, dog, dog inc., dogs, friends, german shepherd, human, ideal friend, jr ackerley, loss, love, man's best friend, memoirs, missy, my dog tulip, north carolina, pets, queenie, snuppy, tulip, unconditional, void, winston-salem
For all those wondering what Steve Carell would do after “The Office,” now we know: He has agreed to star in and co-produce a new movie about talking to a dog.
It may sound cutesy, but it’s not.
“Dogs of Babel” will be a film adaptation of the 2003 novel by Carolyn Parkhurst, described as a tragic story of love and loss, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Carell — pretty much a virgin when it comes to serious drama — will play a linguistic professor who comes home to find his wife dead in the backyard.
When the police rule the death an accident, the professor has some doubts, and he attempts to teach his dog Lorelei — the only witness – to talk, so he can learn about the final moments of his wife’s life.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 25th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: actor, animals, books, carolyn parkhurst, comedy, dogs, dogs of babel, drama, entertainment, film, linguistics, loss, love, movie, movies, pets, steve carell, talk, television, the office
Here’s your chance to find true love in Savage, Maryland.
Once again, Camp Bow Wow in Columbia is holding a “Cupids & Canines” event, designed to match up adoptable dogs from various rescue groups with new, loving homes.
Similar events are being held throughout February by Camp Bow Wow’s 108 locations across the country, and you can visit their website to find one near you.
The events aim to place rescue dogs in homes, and raise awareness and funds for local animal rescue organizations and Camp Bow Wow’s Bow Wow Buddies Foundation.
The Bow Wow Buddies Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the health and welfare of dogs worldwide by finding foster and lifetime homes for unwanted dogs, advancing humane education and treatment, and investing in research and treatment for dogs devastated by illness and disease.
“As we grow, it’s truly wonderful to see so many of our franchisees giving back to their communities by helping dogs and shelters in need,” said Heidi Ganahl, founder and CEO of Camp Bow Wow. “The money we raise for our foundation will not only support foster care and adoption programs, but it will also help fund research for canine cancer which takes one in four of our beloved pets.”
Guests at the Savage Mill event can speak with representatives of various rescue groups and meet some of the available dogs. There will also be refreshments, door prized and raffles, as well as discounted micro-chipping. Unless your dog is getting micro-chipped, Camp Bow Wow advises you to leave him or her at home, due to the number of rescue and shelter dogs that will be there.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, adoptable, animals, bow wow buddies foundation, camp bow wow, camp bow wow columbia, columbia, cupids and canines, dog, dogs, events, love, maryland, pets, rescue, savage, shelter, sweetheart, valentine, valentine's
Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.
James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved
Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.
U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.
Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.
Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.
While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.
Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.
This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.
No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.
Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.
Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said. “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.
The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.
Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”
Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.
“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.
Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.
Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.
“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: beagle, caat, canines, center for alternatives to animal testing, cures, disease, dog, dog lovers, dogs, experiments, genes, genetics, humane, james serpell, johns hopkins university, laboratory, love, medcial, medical, opposition, oxytocin, pain, pavlov, products, research, rising, school, stature, status, stress, tests, therapy, treatment, university of pennsylvania, veterinary