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Tag: news

Run-on sentience: Are we going way overboard in attributing emotions to dogs?

Lately, it seems, hardly a month goes by without either some viral video or paper-writing scientist suggesting that — contrary to what scientists and the media think we think — dogs feel emotions much like our own, or at least a doggy version of them.

If it’s not a video, like the one above  – which is being described in the news media as a dog not just feeling remorse, but atoning for his misdeed —  it’s a new scientific paper proclaiming, yes, dogs do feel … you name it … joy, fear, anger, guilt, pride, compassion, love, shame.

(If you didn’t already think dogs feel joy, you may not be the world’s most perceptive person.)

(Some, apparently, get so overwhelmed by it that they pass out.)

This month’s emotion? Jealousy.

Dr. Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego — after a study involving dogs, their owners, stuffed animals,  jack-o’-lantern and children’s books – concluded that dogs showed a “primordial” form of jealousy, meaning, I guess, not as evolved, twisted, complex, nasty and, sometimes, fatal as the human form.

According to an article in the New York Times, the dog version of jealousy is “not as complex as the human emotion, but similar in that there is a social triangle and the dog is trying to make sure it, not the rival, receives the attention.”

In the study, as it’s described in a a PLoS One paper co-written by Harris, researchers compared the reactions of dogs when their owners petted and talked to a jack-o’-lantern, read a children’s book aloud, and petted and talked to a stuffed toy dog that barked and whined.

The dogs paid little attention to the jack-o’-lantern or the book. But when dog owners petted and talked to the stuffed dog, their dogs reacted, coming over, pushing their noses into the owner or stuffed dog, sometimes barking, and sniffing the rear end of the stuffed dog.

I’m not sure that’s proof of jealousy — it could just be proof that dogs are smart enough to investigate when humans are trying to dupe them. On top of that, most dogs have experience playing with stuffed toys, as opposed to plastic pumpkins and children’s books. So it’s not too astonishing they would have a more excited reaction to them.

SONY DSCIn that way, the findings of this study aren’t really too surprising, or revealing, but they are indicative, I think, of a trend — in the scientific community, in the news media, and among normal members of society — of seeing dogs more and more as humans.

The “dogs feel jealousy” study, for example — flimsy as its findings sound — was picked up by most major news organizations.

“Study: Jealousy Is So Universal Even Dogs Feel It,” reported the New York Times.

“Study: Dogs Can Feel Jealous, Too,” said a CNN headline.

At least NPR phrased their headline as a question: “Does Your Dog Feel Jealous, Or Is That A Purely Human Flaw?”

These days, the news media doesn’t need a legitimate study to draw sweeping conclusions; a viral video will do.

The video at the top of this post has been shared — if not actually reported on with any depth — on news websites from Alabama to India.

The headlines all presume to know what the beagle is feeling, and some go so far as to explain the goal of his behavior as well: “I’m Sorry! Charlie the guilty dog showers crying baby with gifts to apologize for stealing her toy,” reads the headline in The Daily Mail.

acecouchAmazing the conclusions reporters and headline writers can reach nowadays — and the mind reading they can do — usually without ever stepping away from their computer.

My problem is not with attributing emotions to dogs. I believe they have most of the ones we do, or at least most of the desirable ones. I believe they have other magical gifts and skills we haven’t even begun to figure out. I believe studying what’s going on in their heads is a good thing — at least when it’s done by dog experts. I can even handle a little anthropomorphization; given we’re humans we tend to interpret things in human terms.

What bothers me, for starters, is presenting such findings as new, when dog owners have known most of them all along. Sometimes, it’s as if scientists and the news media are saying, oh wait, we’ve discovered dogs are not unfeeling blobs of fur, after all. Well, duh.

The problem I have is not so much ascribing emotions to dogs as it is the vanity of assuming emotions are something only humans feel.

SONY DSCFeel free, scientists, to study jealousy in dogs. And feel free to study it in humans. And feel free to compare and contrast the two.

And feel free as well, video posters, to share your dog’s interesting and seemingly human-like behavior, and to offer any theories you might have.

But let’s not leap to wild conclusions, based on how things look through our human eyes. Let’s not forget that dogs have had emotions all along. Let’s not assume they are “catching up” with us in terms of their emotions and behaviors. Maybe they’ve been ahead of us all along.

And let’s not be so surprised — given the centuries man has been choreographing their evolution, and the half century or so they’ve been mostly living inside with us — that they’re picking up some of our habits, good and bad.

While we’re at it, let’s let dogs remain, at least in part, dogs.

Let’s keep in mind, during all this, what we can learn from them. Are dogs lagging behind us, in terms of developing a sense of jealousy, or are they exhibiting a purer form of what we homo sapiens have taken to ridiculous extremes?

And let’s at least keep our minds open to the possibility that, when it comes to what dog and man can learn from each other,  we may not always be the teachers, or the role models, in that equation.

(Photos: Ace in Monterey, California, at home on the couch, and with a panhandler in Portland, Maine; by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

One more dead dog, but no more answers, in Arizona’s Green Acre Dog Boarding case

greenacre3

Sometimes really big stories that raise really huge questions that demand really immediate answers have a way of slipping out of the public eye.

Sometimes that’s the fault of lazy news organizations failing to fulfill their watchdog function. Sometimes it’s a result of less than vigilant police investigation. Sometimes it’s the result of behind the scenes orchestrations by the subjects involved.

I’m not sure which is the case with the story of Green Acre Dog Boarding, where 21 dogs died virtually overnight, but 40 years as a newspaper reporter, watching stories surge and ebb, tells me this one seems to be vanishing from the headlines too fast — despite a large and continuing public outcry.

More than two weeks after the 21 dogs died — almost all of them paid guests at the boarding center — the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has filed charges against no one, and has yet to obtain a warrant to further search the property,Fox News in Phoenix reports.

Nor have deputies re-interviewed the people who were supposed to be caring for the dogs, including the couple assigned to watch over them that weekend, Austin and Logan Flake. (Austin Flake is the son of Sen. Jeff Flake. Logan Flake is the daughter of the boarding center’s owners, who were out of town when the dogs died.)

“We do not know where Austin and his wife are, but I am sure that we will make contact soon,” Sheriff Joe Arpaio said last week.

While the sheriff is a dog lover, and while he has promised the investigation will be a meticulous one, some folks sense his office is taking too casual an attitude about the case.

Fox reported that the sheriff’s office has interviewed many of the owners of the dead dogs. But since their first visit to the home two Saturdays ago, they haven’t re-interviewed the owners of the business or the Flakes.

The only new news about the case came over this past weekend, when a dog who was missing from the kennel was found dead on the side of a road, four miles away.

A bicyclist spotted the dog’s body and suspected the German shepherd mix was Valor, the dog who ran away from the Green Acre Dog Boarding in Gilbert.

Valor had apparently been hit by a car, sheriff’s officials said at a press conference Saturday, according to the Arizona Republic.

Arpaio again said the investigation into the 21 heat-related deaths at the kennel is ongoing. ”It takes time to obtain evidence. The facts will come out,” he said.

Some dog owners were told their dogs had “run away” from the kennel when, in reality, they had died from the heat and their bodies were being stored in a shed. Questions have also been raised about why veterinarians weren’t called to the kennel so they could receive proper treatment.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the boarding center, staff told them that one of the boarded dogs had chewed through a wall and through a wire overnight, knocking out power to the air conditioner.

It’s not clear whether that was a lie, but owners and operators of the kennel have told enough other ones that you’d think they would have been interrogated by now.

At a vigil last weekend many of the dog’s owners questioned why it was taking investigators so long to get a search warrant. Most believe the deaths of the dogs — all lodged in the same small room — to be a result of neglect by the kennel operators.

Green Acre is no longer operating as a kennel, according to its listing on Yelp.com.

But angry dog lovers are continuing to post “reviews” on the website.

One satirical comment, from Richard B., reads:

“When I want to mass execute dogs holocaust style green acres dog boarding is #1!!! Not only do they execute all dogs you provide them, they make sure to do it as slow and painful as possible so those dogs really have time to dwell on their eminent demise. I really love the lack of water and supervision that was given as well. Why waste water and time on dogs that are goin to be exterminated anyway? That’d just be foolish. Green acres really has dog mistreatment down to a science. Don’t worry about pesky police punishing anyone for neglect. Green acres has years of proven experience in misdirection and misinformation that’ll have even the most relentless detectives confused and unconcerned.”

Some commenters are also complaining that their negative remarks about Green Acre have been removed from Yelp,  and are asking why.

Cary H. wrote, “Green Acres killed my 3 dogs and 19 others last week. I hope they have shut down. Yelp please don’t delete this truthful post as you have all the others. You could be saving a dogs life by keeping this up!”

“People have a right to know what happened and we very much rely on sites like Yelp to make an educated decision,” one comment read. “And even if, this investigation isn’t fully completed, factual reports should remain up. Personal reviews and ratings is why we come to Yelp! Deleting reviews makes us question Yelps integrity and the reviews posted throughout the site…”

Recipients say agency’s diabetic alert dogs aren’t performing as promised

Three North Texas families say the diabetic alert dogs they received from a Virginia-based nonprofit aren’t alerting them to anything, and have turned out to be nothing more than expensive house pets.

The three families are among 30 that have filed complaints against Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, according to NBC 5 in Dallas.

Each of the three paid up to $20,000 for what they were told were specialized service dogs trained to alert them to spikes and drops in blood sugar and help them manage Type 1 diabetes.

Mindy Guidry said the dog she received to help her daughter manage her diabetes has failed to detect any blood sugar spirals. On top of that, the dog is afraid to go out in public.

“I cannot take her out in public at all. Even in our own household she’s scared,” Guidry said.

Krista Middleton told NBC 5 that her dog doesn’t alert her when her blood sugar is dropping dangerously low.

“And then I’m passing out. I’m going into comas. My kids are finding me in seizures,” said Middleton. “It gets to the point where, as a mom, I wanted to make sure my kids weren’t the ones to find me convulsing.”

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers says it offers a one- to two-year training program with initial in-home sessions of up to five days, long-distance training and education and up to seven more multi-day visits.

Middleton and Guidry both failed to complete the training program, a spokeswoman for the agency said, and both still owe the agency money.

Middleton said when she informed the non-profit her dog wasn’t working, she got no response.

But Warren Retrievers spokeswoman Jennifer Bulotti told NBC 5 when a dog isn’t working “instant intervention and training is provided.”

Dan Warren, founder and president of the nonprofit, was convicted of passing forged documents in 2008, before he started his service dog agency. While working at a car dealership, he had someone prepare phony tax returns to help customers get loans for cars, NBC 5 reported. He was sentenced to five years’ probation

Tax records from 2012 list his salary from the service dog agency as $157,411.

The Virginia Attorney General’s office has received 30 complaints against Warren Retrievers, but declined to discuss the details of any of them.

Providers of service dogs operate relatively free of government regulation or required standards, and some think it’s time for that to change.

“This is an industry that’s fraught with fraud,” said Brent Brooks, president of The Diabetes Alert Dog Alliance (DADA). “It angers me to have to say it but you have to be skeptical.”

Crated pups left to nurse off dead mother

motherdog

Those who think this website contains too much distressing dog news (which it does, because the world does) might want to skip this story.

“Beyond the human imagination,” is how the sheriff of Parker County, Texas, described it.

But, obviously, it wasn’t — at least not for the human who shot and killed a mother dog and then left her body in a crate with her nursing puppies.

Sheriff Larry Fowler said yesterday an arrest has been made in connection with the incident, which came to light when a school bus driver found the crated animals Wednesday morning in Springtown.

The mother dog had an apparent gunshot wound to the head and was found in in the crate with 10 puppies that were less than two weeks old, according to Fox News

“These puppies were left defenseless and still nursing on their deceased mother,” the sheriff said.

He added, “Parker County does not have an animal problem. We have a people problem. It’s hard to imagine that someone would be so cruel as to execute any animal. But to kill a dog with nursing babies and leave such a gory picture is beyond human imagination.”

arrestedOn its Facebook page, the Sheriff’s Office reported the arrest over the weekend of Tammy Green Douglas.

Douglas, 44, was jailed early Sunday morning on charges of animal cruelty, but freed after posting $3,000 bond Sunday afternoon, according to a press release issued last night.

The dead dog was described as a four-year-old brown heeler-shepherd mix named Aowa. She’d been shot with a 9 mm handgun, while in the crate, the sheriff’s office said, and the puppies were later placed inside with her.

Investigators were led to Douglas by a tipster who showed them a text message she allegedly sent: “I did what I did and I would do it again — if need be.”

According to an affidavit filed in connection with the case, Douglas acted out of revenge because Aowa had killed another dog that got too close to the litter, KVUE reported.

The 10 puppies were taken to the Angels & Outlaws Second Chance Bully Ranch.

The organization reports on its Facebook page that the puppies have been placed with two surrogate pit bulls who will help nurse them until they can be put up for adoption.

How not to surrender a dog


Returning a dog you adopted to the shelter he came from isn’t always a shameful thing.

Sometimes, sad as it is to see, there can be valid reasons for doing so, and, given it is done right, it might turn out best for all involved.

This Denver man clearly didn’t do it right.

Daniel Sohn, 31, is scheduled to appear in court on July 2 to face charges of animal cruelty and neglect after ditching his dog at the Denver Animal Shelter — twice in one day, 7NEWS reported this week.

Sohn, in an interview with the station, disagreed with term “ditch,” and said he took the dog to the shelter to “give him a choice.”

The dog, named Bronson, was adopted by Sohn in October.

According to 7NEWS, he took the dog to the shelter to surrender him, but on two different visits the same day, he balked when he was asked to fill out the required paperwork.

At one point, he ran out the door to his car. His dog followed, and a witness snapped a photo of the dog chasing the car down the street.

Witnesses said his car hit the dog at one point.

7NEWS reporter Molly Hendrickson tracked Sohn down at his parent’s home in Aurora.

“Yes, that is my car and my dog,” Sohn said when shown the photo that had been taken of the dog chasing the car. “I actually dropped him off and he followed me because we have a bit of a bond.”

He added, “Well, I didn’t ditch him. I actually dropped my dog off at the shelter where I did pick him up at. I actually gave my dog a choice if he wanted to be with me or possibly find an owner he might feel better with.”

As for striking the dog with the car, Sohn said, “I didn’t accidentally hit him. He jumped in front of my car but I felt he was triggered to do so as if, like, he was a mechanism of the surrounding people.”

Sohn left with his dog, but he says Bronson later, on a trip to Los Angeles, jumped out of his car at a gas station in Beverly Hills. He hasn’t seen him since.

“He’s a stray and some dogs just stray and he’s probably onto the next owner,” Sohn said. “Is he still alive? I’m sure he is.”

Reporter probes what’s inside dog mouths

You’d think Brian Andrews, as an investigative reporter at CBS News in Miami, would have plenty of legitimate and important issues to pursue — given all the land-raping, government corruption, injustice, drugs and sleaze the state of Florida has to offer.

Instead, he took his investigative skills inside a dog’s mouth. And he discovered there were germs in there.

News flash? Not exactly. We present it here not because it’s breaking news, but because it’s a good example of broken news — the kind of dopey reports that are increasingly common these days as TV news outfits, like newspapers, and websites, opt for quick and easy, crowd-scaring or crowd-pleasing, stories, then do their best to hype, tease and sensationalize them.

To determine whether you should let your dog lick your face, Andrews, a member of the station’s “special projects” team, gathered saliva samples from dogs in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and sent them to a lab to be tested, as part of the station’s continuing series called “How Dirty Is It?”

He was trying to determine if the adage nobody believes in the first place — the one about a dog’s mouth being a pristinely clean place — was really true.

We all know, or should, that there are going to be germs in a dog’s mouth, based simply on the sort of things that go in there. We also know, or should, that there are also plenty of germs in our own.

Upon completion of the doggy saliva tests, Nova Southeastern University microbiologist Dr. Julie Torruellas-Garcia concluded, “There was quite a bit of bacteria that grew from the dogs’ mouths.”

Based on the cultures grown in the lab from the samples, she said, there was “evidence of Nyceria, which is linked to STDs, pneumonia and plaque.”

“While our testing did not reveal the presence of any e-coli or bacteria that could cause a staph infection, Dr. Torruellas-Garcia and her students found globs of other microbes,” the news report said.

“You may want to think twice,” the report reads, “before you and your dog exchange siliva.” (We’re pretty sure they meant saliva.)

After raising fears about mouth to mouth contact with dogs, Andrews, in a complete turnaround, goes on to present a veterinarian who said kissing your dog isn’t all that dangerous. West Palm Beach Veterinarian Ken Simmons said any bacteria in a dog’s mouth doesn’t stay there for long.

“In the end, the testing didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary,” the story reports.

So the point of it all was …?

Yes, the canine mouth, like the human mouth, is a breeding ground for germs. (Perhaps a more interesting story approach would have been if Andrews swabbed inside his own mouth, and compared the germs he might be carrying behind his own well-flossed grill with those of dogs.)

And, yes, dogs can pass on illnesses to us, and vice versa.

But spare us the scare tactics, news guys. Stop wasting our time by telling us the obvious, because, obviously, we already know that. And don’t bad-mouth dogs, no matter how bad their mouths are.

Florida vet reunited with his service dog

A disabled Army veteran whose service dog went missing after a car accident will soon be reunited with her.

“I am totally ecstatic … If I had two legs, I’d do a back flip!” 7-year Army veteran Luke Macner, of Tampa, said upon learning Nina, his German shepherd-Rottweiler mix had been found.

Macner broke his collar bone in the car accident, but in interviews afterwards he was more worried about what happened to Nina, his constant companion since he lost his leg.

“I’m lost without the dog. I really am,” he told WTSP at the time.

“Please, let somebody find you and please bring you back to me,” he pleaded.

After the accident, the dog was found wandering in South Tampa by Amy Abdnour.

While she was playing with the dog another woman, who had seen news reports about the missing dog, approached Abdnour.

“A lady said, ‘Do you know this dog has been on the news?’” Abdnour said.

After a call to the Humane Society, she got in touch with Macner.

Macner plans to reclaim the dog when he gets released from the hospital.

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