Tag: philadelphia inquirer
Last night, in Los Angeles, the Golden Collar Awards were underway — bestowing the canine version of Oscars on dogs for their performances in movies and television.
Meanwhile, in New York, that prestigous annual beauty pageant known as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show opened.
In between the coasts, across America, it was business as usual: dogs in our movies, dogs in our parks, dogs in our beds, dogs in our yards, dogs on the cover of Time magazine; dogs visiting psychiatrists, getting pampered, dining on gourmet meals and chewing up a little more of the record $35 billion it’s estimated we will spend on them this year.
There’s a cliche we never use on this blog — “going to the dogs.” Headline composers love it, as do writers who are writing too fast. It suggests that — ohmigoodness! — dogs are taking over, whether it’s an event, a location, or the world.
Sometimes, there’s the accompanying implication, or outright fretting, that dogs, or our love for them, is getting out of hand.
So what else is new?
John Timpane, in a commentary piece Sunday for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is one of the latest to weigh in on the subject in an article that looked at the pedestal-like heights, and red carpet treatment, some dogs are achieving. It quoted a few dog experts, of which (though I question my credentials) I was happy to be one. And it avoided the common trap of describing it all — given I’m pretty sure there were pharaohs who coddled their dogs — as something new.
“Before anyone trots out ‘It’s all going to the dogs,’ let’s recall that the human world has been a mondo cane (dog’s world) for about 15,000 years now,” he wrote. “This year is only one more peak in a long and beautiful friendship between homo sapiens sapiens and canis lupus familiaris. Human beings have created more than 5,000 breeds, the longest-running genetic engineering experiment of all time.”
Still, dogs today are, as a species, higher up on the pedestal than ever. How’d they get there? By being so damn smart. By being so very obliging. By doing what we can’t always do ourselves — up to and including figuring us out.
Timpane’s article quotes Christina Williamson, a wolf researcher, behavior consultant and trainer at DogTown Obedience in Morrisville, Vt., who says dogs have learned social skills their wolf forebears never had.
“The biggest one would be their social connection to people,” she says, “their even being interested in communicating with people, figuring out what people are asking them to do. Some of it is to gain access to resources, such as a toy or food. But clearly it’s also for having the relationship itself, the emotional connection. That’s unique.”
Timpane goes on to quote me and, more importantly, mention my book.
John Woestendiek, a former Inquirer writer, is a big dog fan. He runs ohmidog!, a canine-themed website, and is author of Dog, Inc., an exposé of dog cloning. He says our cur connection reflects the human need to give and receive affection. People have “become emotional codependents with their dog,” he says. “We make room for them, and they gladly step in, whether it’s into the house, the sofa, the bed, or whatever void needs filling …
“So we have greyhounds racing, and dog beauty pageants, and dogs in handbags,” Woestendiek says. “We have dogs that can adapt to guiding the blind, or sense an oncoming seizure, or sniff out cancer. And we have gazillions more that do the less specialized daily work of simply keeping their humans calm and on an even keel.”
Have we come to expect too much of them? Probably. Are we making them too human? Definitely. Are we manipulating them more than we have a right to? Maybe. Do they mind? Seemingly, not at all.
“The astonishing thing is,” Timpane notes, “whatever we throw at (them) dogs lap it up.”
Posted by jwoestendiek February 14th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, award shows, beauty pageants, commentary, dependency, dogs, evolution, going to the dogs, golden collar awards, humans, john timpane, john woestendiek, pedestal, pets, philadelphia inquirer, red carpet, species, westminster
What happens when you cross a Labrador retriever and a poodle?
You get a Labradoodle.
What happens when you bring together a science writer and a cartoonist?
You get a highly informative and entertaining blog, like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s, Planet of the Apes, which looks at evolution. (And God bless evolution, for, without it, we’d all be reading this through slimy fish eyes.)
Earlier this week, the blog – written by Faye Flam and illustrated by Tony Auth – examined what makes dogs so diverse a species.
Is the diversity a result of evolution, or man’s infernal tinkering?
The answer to why there’s such a range in head shapes, snouts, coats and size — why some dogs are up to 40 times the size of others — may be in DNA.
(DNA, of course, being the answer to just about everything nowadays, with the possible exception of where did I put my car keys.)
Flam turned to Elaine Ostrander, a geneticist who studies dogs at the National Institutes of Health, for some help solving the mystery.
“Ostrander said two possible genetic explanations exist for dog variability. One is that something latent in the DNA of wolves allowed them to be transformed into both Great Danes and dachshunds. Under that view, she said, pushed-in noses and floppy ears and spots were all embedded in the wolf genome.
“The evidence against this, she said, is that we never see wolves born with pug noses or polka dots.
“The other view is that the genes underlying these traits don’t exist in the wolf, but that wolf DNA is very good at spinning out new variants – that it’s particularly ‘plastic.’”
Flam goes on to explain that that “plasticity” may stem from the parts of the DNA that don’t make up the genes, but control how those genes work. Seven percent of the dog’s DNA, for example, is made of strings of code called SINEs that appear to have copied themselves throughout the dog chromosomes.
Between dog generations, SINEs can copy themselves in new spots on the chromosomes. And sometimes, the location of these SINEs can influence traits. Australian shepherds, for example, have blue-gray coats due to the invasion of a SINE into the middle of a gene for coat color.
While SINEs crop up in other animals, including us humans, dogs may be particularly rich in these and related bits of variable and movable DNA, according to Ostander.
In other words, or so it seems to me, when it comes to diversity, it’s just another thing dogs are better at than us.
(Graphic: By Tony Auth / Philadelphia Inquirer)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 3rd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, breeding, breeds, chromosomes, coats, dna, dog, dogs, elaine ostrander, evolution, faye flam, genes, national institutes of health, pets, philadelphia inquirer, planet of the apes, science, shape, sines, size, species, tony auth, wolf
Until the last couple of weeks, Dan Rubin was among that minority of Americans who don’t let their pets into bed with them.
That’s right, I said minority, at least according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), which earlier this year released the results of a survey showing nearly half of dog owners and 62 percent of cat owners share their beds with their pets.
That’s a pretty stunning figure — one that shows not just our increasing closeness to our pets, but our willingness to proudly admit it, even to survey-taking strangers inquiring about our bedroom habits.
But back to Dan (which is how his dog Harley is sometimes sleeping nowadays).
Dan is a friend of mine, a former colleague and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who never got into the practice of laying down with dogs, at least not in bed. He’s a dog lover, but he’s also a sleep lover, and the latter is more easily accomplished without a 113-pound dog squirming about, he notes.
A couple of weeks ago, Harley, his five-year-old bouvier des Flandres, had leg surgery, Dan explained in his Monday column. And his vet declared stairs off limits for eight weeks.
That meant lonely nights for Harley, who — though not allowed in bed — was accustomed to at least sleeping on the same floor as his family.
Dan’s wife, Mimi, wasn’t about to let that happen. She announced she would sleep downstairs with Harley. Dan, like a dog, followed.
They moved all the furniture out of the TV room and replaced it with a futon mattress, then made a sleeping area for Harley, adjacent to it, topped with his favorite blanket.
But the first night, Dan found Harley on his pillow. A few nights later, Harley settled down on Mimi’s pillow, and they decided there was room for all three, kind of, even with the huge plastic cone Harley has to wear around his neck:
” … He has to wear one of those plastic lamp shades – at the vet’s they called it an Elizabethan collar. It’s about the size of a satellite dish, and he knocks about in the dark with the grace of a rutting Triceratops.”
Harley had surgery for a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament. It involved planing the tibia and making a mechanical adjustment so his bones hinge without requiring the support of the damaged ligament, Dan explained.
With Dan’s man cave temporarily converted into a man/wife/dog cave, Dan says he has had to make sacrifices:
“…We can’t watch baseball in bed because Harley likes to rush the screen every time he sees a pitcher go into his windup. Best I can tell, he thinks they’ve got his ball.”
We wish Harley a full and speedy recovery. And we sincerely hope Dan doesn’t give him fleas.
Photo: Courtesy of Dan Rubin
Posted by jwoestendiek September 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: american pet products association, animals, bed, bouvier des flandres, columnist, dan rubin, dogs, harley, health, pets, philadelphia inquirer, recovery, sharing, sleeping, sleeping with dogs, surgery, veterinary
One Nation Under Dog, one of the latest contributions to the growing pile of American dog lit, is a highly readable volume that looks at our obsession with dogs, and the lengths (or are they extremes?) we go to on their (or is it our?) behalf.
As dog lit goes, this one’s worth scooping up, and not just for its accounting of excessive human behavior when it comes to dogs — from popping Prozac in our puppies, to luxury pet spas, to doggie social networking, to the dog food revolution, to spending our savings to prolong our dogs’ lives.
The book covers all that, and more, in an entertaining manner, but it’s at its best when it ventures into figuring out what’s behind the mania.
Written by Michael Schaffer, who like me — and like some guy named Grogan who once wrote a book about some dog named Marley — is a former writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, One Nation Under Dog, chronicles the rise of the pet industry, where sales have risen from $17 billion to $43 billion in the past decade.
I asked Shaffer in an email interview what he sees as the factors behind the fast rising status of the dog — the species’ transition from backyard to master bedroom.
“If you look at data on the pet population, you see it starting to grow faster than the human population only around the late-60s or early 1970s. Had people’s choice to get pets just been a function of postwar prosperity, it might have spiked sooner. But the rise coincides with a bunch of other things: More divorce, moves away from old tight-knit urban neighborhoods, decline of labor unions, more moving away from family.”
In other words, we’ve turned to dogs for the sense of community some of us often don’t find in our fellow humans.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 16th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, anti-depressants, behavior, book, books, death, dog, dog books, dog lit, dogs, evolution, extremes, henry holt, michael schaffer, one nation under dog, pets, philadelphia inquirer, relationship, society, spas
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin was taking his dog Harley for a short morning walk. You know the kind. Hurry up and do your business … It’s cold … Gotta get to work. But — as will happen when new dog meets freshly fallen snow – the short walk turned into a long walk, an acquaintance turned into a friend, and, more important for Dan, taking the time to go down a new path or two turned into a column. Here’s what he posted on his Facebook page, which he later condensed into a column, which appears in today’s Inquirer.
Harley’s first step out the door is up — straight up — all 100-or-so loping, furry, orsine pounds of Bouvier twisting, leaping, soaring into the air. He looks back, wild-eyed and grinning.
To be a dog in the snow.
The idea was to walk him long enough so he could do his thing, then I could excavate the car and drive into town, where bad roads and deadline awaited.
But everytime this dog sees a blanket of snow, he’s seeing it for the first time. I’m not sure how bright he is. But he does know how to live.
We took the middle of the road, usually a whoosh of morning traffic, but there were no cars, no sound. There were no sidewalks yet either at 7 o’clock, just slight furrows in the virgin snow.
In the next block a lone figure shoveled the deep, airy powder. He was pink-faced and wore a beret, a field jacket, sweats and Wellies.
“Nice day for a walk,” he said, happily stopping for a moment.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 5th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: age, bouvier, column, columnist, daniel rubin, dog, dog in snow, dogwalking, exuberance, friends, harley, morning, neighbors, philadelphia inquirer, routine, snow, walk, walking, weather, winter, woods, youth
If getting an interview with Temple Grandin weren’t impressive enough, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter John Timpane somehow finagled a home visit from the woman who may understand animals better than anyone in America.
Once she got past his dogs, Ricky and Esco, Grandin (who’d been giving a reading nearby) sat down and talked to Timpane about her new book, Animals Make Us Human, and her continuing quest, in Timpane’s words, ”to explain animals to people and people to themselves.”
Grandin, as Timpane notes in his story, is perhaps the best-known person with autism in the United States. She holds a Ph.D. in animal behavior; is a professor at Colorado State; author of Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation; and consultant on how to treat animals in the wild and in industrial settings such as corrals and slaughterhouses.
In Animals Make Us Human, Grandin writes that, for an animal, ”a good life requires three things: freedom from pain and negative emotions, and lots of activities to turn on seeking and play.”
“I think a lot of dogs today have a horrible life,” Grandin said in the interview. “In my town, Fort Collins, [Colo.], we have draconian leash laws. If you walk down any residential street in Fort Collins, dogs are whining in half the houses. Dogs need to have a doggy social life, a life off the leash. When we were kids and all the dogs ran free, a lot of dogs were killed by cars, and that was bad, but we also had a lot of happier dogs. Now that we live in such a controlled world for dogs, you need to spend some time with your dog – an hour or so of good play, a walk in the park.”
Grandin has said repeatedly that her autism has given her a powerful connection to the way animals think. “It began when I realized I think in pictures, not verbally,” she said. “Animals, lacking the verbal aspect, see everything in terms of what they see, feel, hear … Most of us have just never looked at things from an animal’s point of view.”
Posted by jwoestendiek January 16th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animal behavior, animals, animals in translation, animals make us human, autism, behavior, book, books, books on dogs, dog books, dogs, emotions, john timpane, pets, philadelphia inquirer, temple grandin