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Tag: sniffing

Getting to (sniff, sniff) know you


Humans need a play stance.

I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us – as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).

Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.

Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing  – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.

The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.

Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.

This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.

He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.

Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”

I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.

Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.

All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.

We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders – that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.

We can’t, without repercussions, do the butt-sniffing thing. We can’t, of course, go around peeing on each other’s pee.

But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?

Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?

It was easier when we were children. A simple ”Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”

Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point – with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.

Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.

In the final analysis, being human, maybe we’re stuck with words, and small talk, and being less straightforward, sincere and, quite likely, pure of heart and motive than dogs.

Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)

Dogs can detect prostate cancer, study says

A French study says dogs can sniff out signs of prostate cancer in human urine — a finding that could lead to better cancing-sensing technology, according to its lead author.

While some scientists have questioned similar reports of dogs with such diagnostic powers in recent years, French researcher Jean-Nicolas Cornu, who works at Hospital Tenon in Paris, said, “The dogs are certainly recognizing the odor of a molecule that is produced by cancer cells.”

Researchers don’t know what that molecule is,  according to U.S. News & World Report, but the study’s findings could prove useful in the detection of cancer, which often goes undetected until it is too late to treat.

Urine tests can turn up signs of prostate cancer, Cornu said, but miss some cases.

In the study, two researchers spent a year training a Belgian Malinois, a breed already used to detect drugs and bombs.

The dog was trained to differentiate between urine samples from men with prostate cancer and men without. Ultimately, researchers placed groups of five urine samples in front of the dog to see if it could identify the sole sample from a man with prostate cancer. The dog correctly classified 63 out of 66 specimens.

If the findings hold up in other studies, they’ll be “pretty impressive,” said urologist Dr. Anthony Y. Smith, who was to moderate a discussion on the findings Tuesday at the American Urological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

Students’ hard work foiled by thief

Students at Woodlands High School in Conroe, Texas raised $9,000 to help purchase a land-mine sniffing dog — only to see the money snatched by a thief.

Teacher Susan Hollier  said about 2,000 people from across the community attended a Woodlands High School walk and fundraising festival on Saturday.

Two student clubs — Interact and the Council on International Affairs — started working on the project in February, with hopes of raising $20,000 to pay for the purchase and training of a Belgian Malinois. The dogs are sent around the world to detect mines so communities in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam can use the land again.

Part of the money raised was also going to pay for a Woodlands High student to travel to Bosnia to see the dogs in action. The clubs’ project dog was going to visit the high school in May.

Around noon Saturday, though, a suspect grabbed a box of donated money from a student and ran, according to the Houston Chronicle. Hollier said all but $253 was stolen.

“It’s really just heartbreaking, especially when this one dog would save up to 10,000 lives in its five to seven years of service,” said Shelby Howard, 18, president of Interact. “It’s really hard to see all our hard work just taken from us in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to believe someone would go to that level.”

What are the clubs going to do about it? Start all over again, Shelby said. “We’re definitely not going to just let it go. This is a worthy cause.”

Was this dog ready to protect our shores?

securitas

 
The Virginian-Pilot this week sniffed out a doozy of a story — about how 49 dogs supposedly trained in bomb detection for the Navy by a private security contractor failed to pass muster and were returned to the contractor, only to apparently languish in the months that followed.

The Navy originally picked up the dogs last spring from Securitas Security Services USA,  a private security contractor in Chicago. But once the dogs arrived at Naval bases, not a one was able to find planted explosives during military certification tests, according to the Navy.

The Navy sent the dogs back to the contractor, then later decided to end the contract with Securitas, buying the 49 dogs and training them on its own.

When the Navy went to retrieve to dogs on Oct. 5, according to Navy emails obtained by the newspaper, the dogs were dirty, weak and so thin that their ribs and hip bones jutted out.

In the emails, a civilian official describes the dogs’ condition as  “deplorable” and says he feared the dogs would have died if the military hadn’t come to get them.

In fact, the Navy said later, at least two of the dogs didn’t survive, and several others were deemed too sick to be of use, the newspaper reported. Nearly a year after they were supposed to have begun working, the remaining K-9s still are not patrolling Navy installations as intended.

It was the first time the Navy had procured dogs trained by an outside contractor. In the past, it trained its own dogs to help protect its bases and ships.

Securitas disputes that the dogs were poorly trained and neglected, and says that the Navy still owes it money — more than $6 million for its services and for the animals. Jim McNulty, an executive vice president, said the dogs were healthy and well-fed when the Navy picked them up a second time. He disputed that they were kept in a warehouse. “They were in excellent shape,” he said.

Securitas bought the dogs for about $465,000  from Vohne Liche Kennels, an Indiana-based business that offers work-ready police dogs as well as training courses for handlers.

When the Navy canceled the contract, it paid $800,000 to Securitas for the dogs, according to Securitas.

The state of Illinois has launched an investigation into the dogs’ treatment.

The Navy’s shift to privately trained explosives-detection dogs came as part of a decision in 2008 to outsource a number of base security services. In January 2009, Lockheed announced it had signed a $350 million, five-year contract with the military, part of which called for Lockheed to provide explosives-detection dogs to supplement the Navy’s own K-9 forces and free up more Navy dogs to deploy overseas.

Soon after it signed the agreement, Lockheed subcontracted the K-9 portion to Securitas.  Securitas began offering K-9 services about seven years ago.

In a written statement, the Navy said it expects 39 of the original 49 dogs to eventually patrol installations as intended. Several are now being cared for and trained at bases in the Hampton Roads area. 

(US NAVY photo)

Philadelphia airport dogs not up to snuff

All three bomb-sniffing dogs handled by the Transportation Security Administration at Philadelphia International Airport have lost their certification after having failed their last two tests.

And Fox News reports the problems may extend beyond that: Sources say about a dozen of the 700 TSA dogs at 85 airports have failed the tests as well.

A TSA spokesman said the three dogs in Philadelphia — after failing standard tests in November and December — are continuing intensive training to regain their certification, and are continuing to work at the airport as a “visual deterrent.” 

The dogs, trained in at Lackland Air Force base in Texas, completed the 10-week course all TSA dogs must successfully pass.

Ten other city police dogs assigned to Philadelphia’s airport passed the tests.

The TSA spokesman said the agency is working quickly to recertify the bomb sniffing dogs and assured the traveling public that security would not suffer.

You can teach a mold dog new tricks

Oreo-Laughing-715332Among all the things dogs’ noses are sniffing out to make the world a better and safer place — drugs, explosives, missing children, fleeing felons, diseases, bedbugs, pirated cds, sewage leaks, cell phones in prisons — here’s one I hadn’t heard of:

Mold.

A Princeton, New Jersey, company is using canines to detect potentially lethal mold in homes, offices and classrooms.

1-800-GOT-MOLD?  calls itself America’s leading mold inspection company, and claims to be the nation’s first franchise operation to recruit man’s best friend to pinpoint the location of hidden mold in buildings, preventing potential health dangers, which include fatigue, headaches, respiratory problems, and even cancer.

Mold Dogs (and the term has been trademarked) can locate the source of hidden mold growth, even in its early stages.

The company’s founder, Jason Earle, realized that  traditional mold-detection involved a lot of guesswork. While air sampling is commonly used to detect household molds, it often fails to locate the precise source of the problem.

 Mold Dogs save time and money and allow the company to avoid unnecessary invasive procedures, according to Earle, who suffered from mold-related health complications as a child.

Earle’s dog Oreo is the first mold detection dog in the northeast and one of the first nationwide, he says.

(Photo: Oreo, courtesy of 1-800-GOT-MOLD? )

Drug-sniffing dog ingests a snoutful of meth

baluBalu, a police dog for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department in California, accidentally ingested a snoutful of the drug methamphetamine during a search.

The  4 1/2-year-old German shepherd, was rushed to an emergency veterinary clinic early Monday when he began having seizures, about two hours after a drug bust in Moorpark, KTLA reported.

During the arrest, the suspect was seen tossing two bags of drugs. Deputies found one. Balu found the second, torn one. Deputy Dean Worthy said Balu, his partner of three years, seemed fine until they got home and the dog began convulsing. He rushed the animal to the clinic for treatment.

Worthy said Balu is doing well and a full recovery is expected.