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Tag: species

Fossils found in Maryland identified as those of ancient dog species

cynarctuswangi

If you were wandering around Maryland 12 million years ago, you might have run into this fellow.

You wouldn’t have know what to call him, though, because only now does his species have a definite name — Cynarctus wangi.

Fossils found by an amateur collector along the beach under the Choptank Formation in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs region have been identified as the news species of ancient dog by a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania.

The specimen, found in Maryland, would have roamed the coast of eastern North America approximately 12 million years ago, Science Daily reported.

Among species that still roam the earth, Cynarctus wangi probably most closely resembles the hyena.

“In this respect they are believed to have behaved in a similar way to hyenas today,” said Steven E. Jasinski, a student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences and acting curator of paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. His new findings were published in the Journal of Paleontology.

Fossils from terrestrial species from the region and time period are rare, he said.

“Most fossils known from this time period represent marine animals, who become fossilized more easily than animals on land,” Jasinski said. “It is quite rare we find fossils from land animals in this region during this time, but each one provides important information for what life was like then.”

Jasinski and Steven C. Wallace, a professor at East Tennessee State University, began their study after the specimen was placed in the Smithsonian Institution.

Initially, they presumed it was a known species of borophagine dog, a species called marylandica that was questionably referred to as Cynarctus, a fossil of which had been found in older sediment in the same area.

But when they compared features of the teeth of the previously known and the new specimens, they found notable differences and concluded the specimen represented a distinct species new to science.

“It looks like it might be a distant relative descended from the previously known borophagine,” Jasinski said.

Borophagine dogs were widespread in North America from around 30 million to about 10 million years ago. The last members went extinct around 2 millions of years ago during the late Pliocene.

Cynarctus wangi represents one of the last surviving borophagines and was likely outcompeted by ancestors of some of the canines living today: wolves, coyotes and foxes.

The name of the new species honors Xiaoming Wang, curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and an expert on mammalian carnivores.

(Illustration from “Dogs, Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History,” courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania)

Oddball: How a dog saved the little penguins

Take a vulnerable colony of tiny penguins, throw in some villainous foxes intent on killing them all, and top it off with a heroic dog who comes to the rescue, and you’ve got a plot line that might make Walt Disney himself jump out of his grave (or freezer if you believe that tall tale).

This tale is based on a true one, though — how the little penguins of Middle Island, off the coast of Australia, saw their population drop from more than 800 to less than five before a local farmer suggested a dog on the island could keep the foxes away.

It may be a feelgood movie now — and how could it not be given it features penguins (everybody’s favorite animal) and dogs (everybody’s favorite animal) — but the story, when first widely publicized, was a nightmarish one.

Little-PenguinIn October of 2004, 180 penguins were found dead on the island, just off the coast of Victoria.

The penguins had already all but disappeared from Australia’s mainland by then. Once common along Australia’s southern coast, the flightless birds began diminishing in number after red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century.

Before long, the only surviving little penguins– once known as fairly penguins — were to be found on islands.

In the late 1990’s, tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation began to make small and uninhabited Middle Island accessible from the shore, and the foxes took advantage of the island’s easy prey — even when those seeking to preserve the penguins experimented with various solutions, including building shelters for the birds on the island.

The 2004 incident, labeled a “massacre” by the local press, led to some serious consideration of a solution that had been proposed by a local chicken farmer.

The farmer, who goes by the name Swampy Marsh, had offered to send one of his Maremma dogs to the island to protect the birds.

Named for the region northwest of Rome where they originated, the dogs were bred to live among livestock. While vigilant and territorial, they are generally amiable toward people they know and the animals they are trained to protect.

In 2006, the first Maremma, named Oddball, was sent to the island. Since then Middle Island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a fox, according to a New York Times article last month.

Oddball is retired now, and six other dogs have taken over patrolling the island, including the most recent two, Eudy and Tula.

The dogs operate in the penguin’s breeding season, usually from October to March, during which they spend five or six days a week on the island.

Even when the dogs are not there, their lingering scent of them is enough to keep the foxes away — even though the penguins have quite a scent of their own.

“Penguins don’t smell particularly nice,” Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services for the Warrnambool City Council, told the Times. “They look cute and cuddly, but they smell like dead fish.” The dogs are taught to defend the penguins as they commonly do with other kind of livestock.

abbotteudyandtula

Local groups managing the project recently raised more than $18,000 online to buy and train two new Maremma pups, and the new movie has given their efforts a boost.

The movie focuses on Oddball, portraying her as a mischievous sort who spent most of her time trying to stay one step ahead of the local dogcatcher. Then she is given a mission — protecting the penguins — redeeming herself and saving the colony.

The real Oddball is 14 now, and spends most of her time under Marsh’s house — not to avoid celebrity seekers, but because she likes it there.

“She comes out when she wants to,” Marsh said.

(Photos: Penguin photo from animalspot.net; Photo of Peter Abbott with Eudy and Tula on Middle Island by Rob Gunstone / Queensland Country Life)

Dog in France gets the seal of approval, or at least the approval of a seal

We won’t be so anthropomorphic as to insist what you’re watching above is a “tender moment” between two species.

(But we will — privately — feel all warm inside and silently go “awwwwwwww.”)

This seal flopped his way up to a yellow Labrador on a beach in southwestern France and seemingly embraced him — as much as one with flippers can embrace.

The dog, meanwhile, took it all in stride.

The video was shot at Le Cap Ferret and uploaded earlier this month by YouTube user Elise Frebourg.

Dogs and Ebola: Looking for answers

bubbledog

You’d think in a world preparing for Ebola — especially in a country as sophisticated, dog-crazy and health-oriented as ours — someone would have given it at least a moment’s thought.

You’d think — between all the agencies and organizations, protocols and precautions; between the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association — someone somewhere would have stood up and said, hey, what about our dogs?

Instead, with Ebola’s spread to countries outside Africa, public health officials find themselves scratching their heads and — even though there’s no proof yet that dogs can transmit the disease — considering options as drastic as incarceration and extermination for the pets of humans diagnosed with Ebola.

Caution, of course, is good, but planning would have been better.

Excalibur was the first one to come to light. The large mixed-breed dog belonged to a nurse in Madrid who contracted the disease from Spain’s first Ebola patient. Her dog, over the family’s objections, was killed and incinerated nearly immediately upon the order of government officials.

America, or at least Dallas, took a more compassionate approach when a local nurse was determined to have contracted Ebola from a patient being treated in a hospital there. Bentley, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, was moved into a quarantined area at a decommissioned Naval base, where he’s being tended to by hazardous material crews in full protective garb.

bentley3

Bentley

The question arises, and should have arisen long ago: What are we going to do with the pets of Ebola victims?

Will we turn to extermination, as the number of cases, and our fears, increase?

Will we keep them isolated in crates, bubbles or decommissioned military bases?

For how long? At what costs? Under whose supervision? And is it even necessary?

No one knows the answers to any of those questions, and the fear and uncertainty that ignorance leads to is bound to take us to some bad places, if it hasn’t already.

In an ideal world, we’d have studies to turn to — proving, one way or the other, whether dogs can contract and transmit the virus. We’d be testing them, as we do humans, before quarantining them, or at least before releasing them from that quarantine. We’d know how long, if at all, they need to be sequestered and monitored.

Instead, we’re playing a messy game of catch-up, and the argument can be made that it’s because we were wearing blinders.

Even in this supposed era of increased awareness about the health issues that cross species lines, our planet seems to once again have gotten caught up in the view that only humans matter.

Perhaps too it could be argued that, among many in America, some strange disease in Africa didn’t strike us as a big concern, or as an opportunity to learn and prepare for what might be coming. (Maybe we humans don’t like to look at the big picture when the big picture is too big, and too scary.)

What is abundantly clear is that no one, up until now, gave much thought to how Ebola might affect our dogs — if not the disease itself, at least the fear of it.

No one knows whether dogs can get the full-fledged virus. One study during the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak in Gabon showed some exposed dogs carried signs of infection, and had an immune response — but that’s not the same as getting the disease.

“Studies have shown that dogs can have an immune response to Ebola, but there have been no reports of pet dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of passing the disease to other animals or people,” said Kristen Nordlund, a CDC health-communications specialist.

“In a situation where there is a dog or cat in the home of an Ebola patient, CDC recommends public-health officials evaluate the animal’s risk of exposure,” she added.

Given dogs are present in nearly half of American homes, given many of them share our beds and lick our faces, we’d like to see the CDC recommending something more than “risk evaluation.”

excalibur2

Excalibur

Between the lack of knowledge, and the lack of a clear-cut recommended response when it comes to the pets of Ebola victims, public fears will only snowball as questions go unanswered.

Why, given all our physiological similarities, can’t the dogs of Ebola patients be tested like humans are to confirm if they’ve been exposed? And if, as limited study suggests, dogs can have the virus without getting sick and dying, might there be something worth further studying in that?

“We know that you and your clients are looking for answers, and we’re working to get information for you,” the American Veterinary Medical Association says on its website.

“The AVMA is collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USDA along with other agencies and experts and is tapping into the broad expertise of our member veterinarians to develop information for our members and the public. We will strive to ensure that veterinarians have a prominent voice as these issues are discussed and decided in the U.S.”

Up until now, the CDC has taken the line that the risk of Ebola to pets is low. Its website also says there is little risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

“The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low,” says a question and answer fact sheet on the CDC website.. “Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.”

And yet Excalibur is dead and Bentley is being treated as hazardous material, and with each new case there will be new fears and ripples.

In Madrid, a dog that often played with Excalibur was surrendered to a shelter by his owners because of fears he might have contracted the disease.

tronco

Tronco

Tronco was dropped off by his owners at the Spanish animal charity Escuela Canina Esga in Madrid, according to the New York Post.

“They were parents with young children and they just were not prepared to take the risk and so [they] handed him over to us,” said manager Esga Juan Esteban. “We did everything we could to reassure them that it was probably OK, but of course we couldn’t guarantee that the animal didn’t have Ebola, and so they were adamant that they didn’t want him any longer.”

The shelter, in its effort (successful) to find Tronco a new home, used only photos of him as a pup — so that, once he was adopted, he wouldn’t be recognized in public as a dog who once played with a dog whose owner has Ebola.

(Top photo: The image of Soviet Space dog Belka is from the distant past, but might we see something like it in the near future?)

Talk the dog: Humanizing our pets

There are two main reasons I’m against humanizing our pets.

One, it’s messing with nature — dogs (ideal beasts, in my view) should stay dogs.

Two, portraying them as humans, giving them human attributes, or using them as our puppets, implies our species is superior, and worth imitating. Oftentimes, from what I’ve seen of it, it’s not. We’re are way too far from perfect to appoint ourselves role models for the animal kingdom.

I get slightly peeved when I see technology being used to make dogs more human — especially when, because we deem it cute and entertaining, we put our words in their mouths.

So, immensely popular as it is, I’m less than smitten with My Talking Pet, an app that allows us to take a photo of our cat or dog, record an audio message, and get a video of our pet — animated so that mouth, nose and eyebrows move as the pet appears to talk.

From the samples I’ve seen, the words we put in the mouths of dogs are only further proof that we’re not the intellectually superior species we think we are.

“People are obsessed with it,” said Iain Baird, who developed the app with his former school buddy, Peter Worth. “I think it’s really struck a chord with how close people are with their pets.”

The concept, he told Fortune.com, came while he and some friends were in a London pub talking about a YouTube video featuring a “talking dog” that had gone viral. They decided to come up with an app that would make it easy for any pet owner make their dog “talk,” and it hit the iTunes market in early 2013.

It wasn’t until after the app was featured on the “Ellen” show that it really took off.

Last October, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, stars of the CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” praised the app while on the show. In the weeks that followed it became the most downloaded paid app in the Apple iTunes store.

Worth and Baird say their company, WOBA Media,  began thinking even bigger after that — including offering a “devil mode,” which adds glowing red eyes to the pet, and “angel mode,” in which the pet appears under a halo.

Taken alone, “My Talking Pet” is  just a little harmless fun — as is dressing the dog up for Halloween, treating the dog like a spoiled grandchild, or calling them “fur babies”.

The dangers come when our seeing them as humans sabotages our attempts at training, when we start assigning dogs human emotions they don’t have, and holding them to human expectations.

We should be close to our pets. We should see them as family members — only canine ones. To manipulate them, to turn them into something else (humans, or angels, or devils), to put words into their mouths, all takes away from appreciating them for what they are.

Just something to keep in mind as technology marches on — often making bigger inroads than we originally anticipated.

How long will it be, for example, before cutting edge, 21st Century technology, like that used in “My Talking Pet”  is turned around on us, and the app takes on a mind of its own, and our pets are giving us their unsolicited opinions on the best brand of dog food, cereal or car to buy?

That could never happen, could it?

Do you want music with that?

We can’t tell whether this dining dog appreciates the musical accompaniment this cockatiel is providing.

On the one hand, the dog doesn’t gobble up the bird, snarl or bark at it, or make the slightest effort to make it go away.

On the other hand, the dog — in what’s uncommon behavior for most members of the species — does leave before finishing the meal.

We could spend hours trying to interpret things, or fretting about the potential dangers of this situation — and you can be sure, on the Internet, many are doing just that.

Instead, we’re just going to enjoy it.

Elk and dog at (what seems to be) play

Encounters between dogs and less domesticated species can sometimes be cute and heartwarming (see dog and goose) or violent and ugly (see dog and javelina).

This one — between dog and elk — looks to be a joyful one, at least if we humans are reading it right.

Elk have attacked dogs and dogs have attacked elk.

But these two certainly seem to be playing. Check out the dog’s wagging tail, and the seemingly playful gait of the elk.

Joe Fleck says his dog Clara played with the elk for a good 10 minutes last month in his back yard in North Bend, Washington.

“We’ve never seen it before,” Fleck told KING5. “We’ve heard her barking before but this is the first time we looked to see what she was barking at.”

“They kept running back and forth with each other. It struck me that it was like two dogs playing with each other,” he said.