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Tag: study

Half of Kentucky’s county animal shelters called substandard — and nobody’s watching

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One day after basking in the nationwide attention the Kentucky Derby brings, Kentuckians woke up to the reality of how another species of animal is being treated by the state.

The Lexington Herald-Leader presented a package of stories addressing the often poor conditions in the state’s rarely monitored animal shelters.

In a state most famous for racing horses — and doing so in manner that almost appears civilized, what with the all the elegant outfits, mint juleps and whimsical hats — many dogs are living far less regal lives, stuck in county-run shelters that, under state law, receive almost no scrutiny from state agencies.

Unlike most states, Kentucky’s animal-shelter law does not include any inspection or enforcement provisions, which means any actions taken against them such shelters must from citizens.

Not until 2004 did state laws even get written to lay down minimum standards for county-run shelters. Those new measures required each county to have access to a shelter and animal-control officer, and set out standards that include protection from the weather; basic veterinary care or humane euthanasia for ill or injured animals; adequate heat in winter; clean and dry pens with adequate room for animal comfort; construction with materials that can be properly cleaned and disinfected; available clean water; uncontaminated food provided daily; and public access to the facility.

Those laws didn’t outline how, or specify who, was responsible for enforcing those standards.

A measure in the 2017 legislative session called for a study of ways to better fund animal shelters and cited the need for a “government entity” to enforce the state’s shelter rules, but it died without consideration.

That lack of enforcement is a large part of the reason the Animal Legal Defense Fund has ranked the state last in animal protection laws for 11 years in a row.

A study by the University of Kentucky, done in 2016, found that of 92 shelters covering Kentucky’s 120 counties – some of them regional facilities – conditions at 57 percent violated three or more provisions of Kentucky’s animal-shelter laws.

More than a fourth were considered “very substandard,” and only 12 percent were meeting all the rules the legislature put in place in 2004.

“Current laws do not appear to be fully satisfactory at accomplishing the goal of providing good shelter animal care across Kentucky,” said the study.

skaggsWhile county-run shelters operate with relative immunity, independent nonprofit sanctuaries and shelters get no such free ride, as was the case last week when the state Department of Agriculture seized 14 dogs from a no-kill sanctuary called Eden.

Randy J. Skaggs, who operates the sanctuary in Elliot County through his Trixie Foundation, faces 179 misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty in connection with poor health and living conditions.

Skaggs defenders say he has devoted his life to caring for animals because so many public shelters in the region were substandard.

Skaggs says he is housing animals no one else wants, and that shelters would end up euthanizing. He refuses to let anyone adopt dogs because believes their best chance to live a healthy and happy life is at his sanctuary.

Skaggs believes the criminal charges against him are retaliation over his efforts to bring attention to Kentucky’s failure to adopt adequate animal protection laws, his criticisms of county shelters and his efforts to push for improvements.

(Photos: Will Wright / Lexington Herald-Leader)

Another example of how humans and dogs are becoming more alike: our poop


It’s never really looked at it in its entirety, as one phenomenon, but how alike dogs and humans are — and keep becoming — continues to astound scientists around the globe.

Compassion? Both species seem to have it. Cognition? Dogs are quite capable of that, perhaps even exceeding us in certain areas. The diseases and disorders we get? Pretty much the same.

Not too many people look at the forest — at what all this, cobbled together, might mean — but scientists from particular disciplines, locked in a lab with a narrow focus, keep discovering new similarities, such as this latest one, deep in our intestines.

The microorganisms that live in dog’s intestines are more similar to the microbes inside us than to those in other animals, says a new study published in the journal Microbiome.

The dog microbiome “has some of the same species [of bacteria] as the human’s,” said lead author Luis Pedro Coelhos, “but different strains.”

The researchers were surprised because they expected that dogs would share only a few strains of bacteria with their owners. Instead, their intestinal flora could be cousins, says a summary of the study in Popular Science.

The study was not really about those similarities; it was aimed at better understanding canine weight loss.

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Nestlé Purina Research worked with a sample of 32 beagles and 32 Labrador retrievers. Half of the members of each breed were overweight, while the other half were a healthy weight. For four weeks, they fed all of the dogs the same diet of Purina.

Then, they collected poop and conducted DNA analyses as they further altered the diets of the dogs.

They found the leaner dogs’ microbiomes changed much less than that of the overweight dogs. The findings, they say, gave then a baseline for how a healthy dog microbiome should behave, and suggested dogs may be better subjects for research into human weight loss than other species that have been used for that purpose.

Jack Gilbert, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Microbiome Center who does research for Purina but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science the study was significant for what it showed about the similarities between the guts of dogs and our own.

“You can control a dog’s diet much more than you can do a human’s,” says Gilbert. The same is true for pigs and mice, but the fact that dogs have such a similar microbiomes to humans means that studying their response to certain diets could produce the best results.

The cause of the similarities isn’t entirely understood, but the study pointed out, “Dogs were domesticated early in modern human history and frequently shared food resources with humans.”

Over time, their digestive systems might have grown even more like our’s, and their obesity rates have come to mirror that of humans.

Further proof that we don’t just like each other, we are like each other — and in ways that continue to be discovered, as we sit around learning, bonding, loving, overeating and growing fat together, becoming, more and more, reflections of each other.

(Photo: Digital Vision/Getty)

Illinois bones said to be earliest evidence of domesticated dogs in America

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Three dogs unearthed at two burial sites In Illinois decades ago are older than originally thought, and likely date to 10,000 years ago.

That makes them the earliest known domesticated canines in the Americas.

Up until now, the nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines.

But radiocarbon dating of the Illinois dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Perri, who presented the paper April 13, said the bones also represent the earliest evidence of dogs being beloved by the humans they lived with.

The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves, Science News reported.

The buried bones also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, indicating that some dogs at least were held in high regard by ancient people in America.

Perri, of Durham University in England, said the absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried.

Some researchers have proposed that whoever made the first excursions into the Americas arrived on dog-powered sleds, but no ancient dog remains have been found in northwestern North America, where the earliest settlers crossing a land bridge from Asia would have entered the New World.

“As much as we want to believe that dogs initially pulled us into the New World, that may not have been the case,” Perri said.

Genetic evidence has suggested a second human migration from Asia to North America occurred around 11,500 years ago, with people trekking south through an ice-free corridor into the northern Great Plains. Those people likely brought dogs to the Americas, Perri said.

She and her colleagues studied three dogs excavated at two sites in west-central Illinois, one found in 1960, two others found in the 1970s.

(Photo: Society for American Archaeology)

This robot dog would be more than a toy

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Robot dogs are a dime a dozen — well, not quite, the latest Sony Aibo goes for about $1,700 — but the point is they’ve become pretty common in the overpriced toy market.

A researcher at the University of Washington, though, is working on a version of a robot dog that promises to do more than than sit and bark and (though real dogs seldom do this) play music that you program into them.

Normally, when we hear the phrase artificial intelligence we think of intelligence that mimics that of a human.

Kiana Ehsani and colleagues have gathered a unique data set of canine behavior and used it to train an AI system to make dog-like decisions, according to MIT Technology Review.

They say their approach opens up a new area of AI research that studies the capabilities of other intelligent beings on our planet, which strikes me as a good thing — given how humans often botch things up.

To gather their initial data, the team fitted a dog with inertial measurement units on its legs, tail, and body to record. They also fitted a GoPro camera to the dog’s head to record the visual scene, sampled at a rate of five frames per second, and a microphone on the dog’s back to record sound.

It gathered about 24,500 video frames with synchronized body position and movement data to further understand how dogs, act, plan and learn, and to try to predict a dog’s future movements based on those recorded ones.

The researchers say the system got the point that it could accurately predict the next five movements after seeing a sequence of five images.

No actual dog robot was built, just an AI system, but the far away goal appears to be a robot dog that could do everything a real dog does, up to and including sniffing out a trail, and helping the blind.

Of course we already have an abundance of dogs with a built-in knack for those kind of things but, human intelligence being what it is, we want to duplicate it in machine form. And more to the point, there are things to be learned in doing so.

The team loaded up a Malamute named Kelp M. Redmon with sensors, to record movements, video of the dog’s viewpoint, and a microphone.

They recorded hours of activities — walking in various environments, fetching things, playing at a dog park, eating — syncing the dog’s movements to what it saw.

The resulting data was used to train a new AI agent.

Their work so far gathered data from just one dog, and it was primarily on what the dog saw and heard and the movements it made. Much more baseline data would be needed to get anywhere — and giving a robot a nose able to sniff out all that dogs to would surely be daunting, if even doable.

But the research is continuing, and the researchers feel the approach could be used to better understand the intelligence of other animals as well, TechCrunch reported.

“We hope this work paves the way towards better understanding of visual intelligence and of the other intelligent beings that inhabit our world,” Ehsani said.

Dogs: We feared, and ate them, and exploited them, before we befriended them

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OK, so it wasn’t love at first sight.

Before dogs became fully domesticated, there were long stretches of time that humans lived in tension with canines — both wolves and dogs — fearing them, eating them, and skinning them for their pelts.

New research published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports concludes the remains of dogs found in Western Europe shows that domestication was neither a quick nor tidy affair.

And one that obviously didn’t happen everywhere at once.

As a result, both wolves and dogs were hunted — dogs maybe even more because they were easier prey.

The research is outlined in a recent Smithsonian article.

The researchers analyzed stable isotopes in the remains. Stable isotopes are forms of atoms that leave behind signatures in biological samples, revealing details about diet, environment and other conditions.

Through them, scientist say, they can learn more about the changing nature of the relationship between humans and dogs between the Middle and Late Stone Age. Most researchers agree that the domestication of dogs dates back 15,000 years or more, and that it first occurred somewhere in Eurasia.

“At that time (the relationship) obviously fluctuated,” says Stefan Ziegler, a co-author of the study. “Sometimes people ate their dogs and sometimes they just used them as guard dogs and maybe even pets.”

The recent study could also provide a new tool for archaeologists trying to get a better grasp on whether newly discovered remains are those of wolves or dogs.

Archaeologists have traditionally based their belief on whether remains are those of a dog or a wolf by relying on bone size, but the stable isotopes may provide a better clue, the study says.

“The data show that dogs and wolves must generally have had a different diet, which is reflected in the altered isotope ratios. Dogs could occasionally access human food sources and their diet must have been either more omnivorous or monotonous than that of wolves, depending on the feeding regime,” the authors say in the study.

(Photo: Lateral view of a lumbar vertebra of a Late Mesolithic dog from Germany with several cut marks by a flint knife, by Jörg Ewersen, via Smithsonian)

Why dogs eat poop: A new theory suggests the behavior all goes back to wolves

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If you had to pick the one non-violent behavior that most dismays dog owners, it would likely be when their dog consumes dog poop — be it the dog’s own or some other dog’s.

Most of us can tolerate their incessant licking of their privates. We can laugh off them humping the leg of a house guest. But most humans find their dog gobbling up feces a revolting and inconceivable act, and some — believe it or not — have even cited it as a reason for returning a dog to a shelter.

While traditionally it has been speculated that some dogs (a minority) engage in the practice to make up for some deficiency in their diet, a new paper suggests it may be in their genes, Scientific American reports.

Veterinary researchers at University of California at Davis who surveyed nearly 3,000 dog owners found 16 percent of dogs consume canine feces “frequently,” meaning, in this case, they’ve seen them do it more than six times. In a second survey of just owners of poop-eating dogs, 62% of them were described as eating it daily and 38% weekly.

Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis, reviewed the survey results and the scientific literature on poop-eating, most of which he says is speculative and doesn’t provide any sort of definitive answer for the cause of what’s called coprophagy.

The survey showed no link between feces-eating and other compulsive behaviors. Coprophagy wasn’t associated with age, gender, spaying or neutering, age of separation from the mother, ease of house training, or any other behavior problem.

What coprophagic dogs had in common was this: More than 80 percent were reported to favor feces no more than two days old.

To Hart, that suggests that the cause may go back more than 15,000 years and be rooted, like so much else, in wolves. The new study by Hart and others was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Typically, wolves defecate away from their dens, but at times of urgency, they may let loose nearby. When that happens, other wolves commonly gobble it up while it’s fresh, possibly, some scholars believe, to prevent the spread of parasitic infections.

Feces contain intestinal parasite eggs, which, after a couple of days, hatch into infectious larvae.

Wolves, he said, figured out that by eating any fresh poop left near the den they could be spared being infected by parasites.

“If they eat it right away, it’s safe to eat. They won’t get infected by parasites,” he said.

He theorizes that today’s poop-eating dogs still carry around that wolfy instinct, even though the feces of modern-day pets, consuming modern-day dog food, tend to be parasite-free.

Hart noted there is no shortage of explanations for dogs eating poop.

“For every person you ask about this, you get a different opinion. Because they’re guessing, whether they’re veterinarians or experts in behavior,” he said.

Some believe that stress, or enzyme deficiencies lead to the behavior. Others suspect dogs picked it up as they adapted to scavenging for food sources in human environments. Many dogs will try to eat anything, and poop, from their own or other species, falls into that category.

The study noted that dogs whose owners considered them “greedy eaters,” were far more like to engage in the behavior.

Dog owners responding to the survey sometimes saw their dogs eating poop, and sometimes just surmised as much, based on “tell-tale breath odor,” or because poop in the house was disappearing before they got around to cleaning it up.

While there are products on the marketplace that claim to correct the problem, most of those do little more than make a dog’s own poop foul tasting, according to the Washington Post blog Animalia.

A dog owner can try and correct the behavior, clean up immediately after their dogs, and monitor them closely while they are outside, but the bottom line is — disgusting as it may strike us — dining on feces isn’t that surprising given where dogs come from and what they’ve been through.

As Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, noted:

“The niche that dogs occupy is essentially one of making a living on people’s leavings — and that isn’t just our leftovers from dinner, but what we put down the toilet, too,” he said. “So it’s only from our human perspective that coprophagy seems strange.”

Scientists learn about aging and memory by monitoring brain activity of sleeping dogs

Researchers in Hungary have found another good reason to let sleeping dogs lie — and maybe for us humans to get more sleep, too.

Both dogs and humans, they say, learn while they sleep.

The scientists placed wires on the head of 15 aging dogs to measure electrical activity in the brain while they sleep. The brain activity, called sleep spindles, has been linked with learning in humans.

The Hungarian scientists are studying how dog’s ability to learn and remember changes as they get older. They hope the study will lead to a better understanding of cognitive ability and memory changes in aging dogs and humans, Voice of America reported.

Ivaylo Iotchey, a neuroscience researcher, says the study represents the first time the sleep spindles of dogs have been measured.

“From studies with humans and rodents, we know that they are extremely useful markers both of memory and cognition but also of aging and activity,” he said. “In the dog, sleep spindles have only been described, they were never quantified, they were never related to function. This is the first time we were able to show that sleep spindles predict learning in the dog.”

The scientists have also found that female dogs, who have twice as many spindles, appear to be better at learning new things.

Senior Researcher Enikó Kubinyi said aging dogs suffer from the same problems as humans who are aging.

“Among very old dogs, up to two thirds of them show signs of dementia, and this dementia is really very similar in a lot of aspects to that of humans, so we could use dogs as a natural model of human aging.”