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Tag: suffering

Twinkle, twinkle little dog, empathetic is what you are

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Do dogs feel empathy? Of course, all us dog people say. Maybe, scientists have generally said.

Now comes what describes itself as the first scientific proof that pets are empathetic, in tune with their owner’s emotions, and quickly respond when they think their owners are upset.

In a new study, scientists took 34 dogs and positioned them behind a movable door with their owners on the other side.

Then they had those owners either pretend to cry, call for help, or hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

The dogs nosed their way through the door three times more quickly when they thought their owners were upset and needed comforting.

“We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, if a dog knows a way to help them, they’ll go through barriers to provide to help them,” said lead author Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

reddit“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they’ve learned to read our social cues,” she said. “Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action.”

Researchers also determined dogs with lower stress levels were more likely to push through the door to “rescue” their owners.

Senior author Julia Meyers-Manor first conceived of the experiment after her own dog, a collie, rushed to her side after hearing her fake muffled cries for help while she was playing with her children.

A former faculty member at Macalester College and current assistant professor of psychology at Ripon College, she wondered just how far a dog would go for a distressed human companion The Smithsonian reported.

Together with Sanford, an undergraduate at Macalester at the time, and their colleague Emma R. Burt, Meyers-Manor designed a series of experiments to explore the extent of empathy in dogs.

First, 34 dogs were separated from their owners by a clear plastic door held shut with magnets. The owners were instructed to either make crying noises or hum “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for up to five minutes. Every 15 seconds, they would say the word “help” in either an upset or casual tone to match their emotional state.

Half the dogs pushed through the door to get to their humans’ side regardless of the anguish their owners conveyed.

Upon closer inspection of the dogs that entered their owners’ room, Sanford noticed that those who were hearing weeping barged in about four times faster than those hearing nonchalant humming. And when the team assessed the strength of each dog’s bond to its owner, they found that dogs who were more attached to their people were more likely to rush in to the sound of sobbing than those who stayed put.

“This validates what a lot of people already feel: The dogs do respond to the crying,” said Meyers-Manor. “It’s not just your imagination when your dog cuddles you when you’re crying in bed. They do seem to care about how we’re feeling.”

The study, titled “Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs,” was published in the journal Learning & Behavior.

The responding dogs were also calmer when they reacted, and the dogs who barked and paced instead were more highly stressed.

“We think the dogs who opened that door might have been at that sweet spot: they perceived stress, but weren’t so personally distressed that they couldn’t do anything,” Sanford said.

Other variations in the responses could have resulted from that quality of the fake crying — “Some of the owners weren’t exactly actors,” she explained.

Regardless of their dogs’ reactions in the moment, most of the study’s human participants affirmed their dogs generally responded to them when they were troubled or in danger.

(Photo credits: Top, PetSmart Charities, lower, Reddit)

Former racing greyhounds to find adoptive homes after Texas blood bank shuts down

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That Texas operation that held retired racing greyhounds in captivity to regularly harvest and sell their blood is shutting down.

PETA exposed neglectful conditions at the blood farm this fall and has been campaigning hard for its closure — going so far as to put up billboards, engage in protests and even buy a share of stock in the company it sold blood to.

The Pet Blood Bank, located northwest of Austin, is one of several commercial blood banks in the United States with an in-house “colony” of dogs used to supply blood for veterinary treatments, according to the Washington Post blog Animalia.

An attorney for the blood bank said in a statement Thursday that the closing was a “business decision” made because the PETA campaign had “caused our long-standing customer relationships to be terminated.”

The National Greyhound Association and other dog-racing advocacy organizations said they were working with regional greyhound adoption groups and the Pet Blood Bank to place all of the 150 greyhounds now housed there up for adoption.

“We’re confident that every greyhound at the blood bank will be on its way to a loving new home within the next few days,” said Jim Gartland, the association’s executive director.”

Last month, PETA obtained photos and videos from a former company employee showing dogs confined in squalid quarters and, in some cases, left to suffer from painful injuries and dental disease.

The blood bank’s owner, Shane Altizer, denied the allegations.

PETA aimed its campaign primarily at Patterson Veterinary, the Minnesota-based company that the blood bank was a provider for. It held protests at the company headquarters and the home of the CEO of its parent group. It bought billboards, and one share of stock in Patterson Companies “to put pressure on the billion-dollar enterprise.”

Operations like the Pet Blood Bank sell their products to veterinary clinics or supply companies, and greyhounds — because members of the breed often have a universal blood type — are commonly used as donors.

The banks are not regulated by the federal government, and California is the only state that regulates them.

In a statement on Thursday, President Ingrid Newkirk said PETA would “work hard to get regulations passed to ensure all blood for emergency transfusions comes from real donors and not from imprisoned, miserable dogs.”

(Photo: PETA)

Woman’s complaint leads to policy change

An animal control officer in Durham declined to free a dog from a hot parked car for about two hours Saturday, despite the pleas of the woman who reported the situation.

As temperatures inside the car climbed to 117 degrees, Jennifer Miller urged the officer to take action, angrily posted pictures on her Facebook page, and pushed ice cubes through the cracked window of the car to the panting pit bull inside.

Miller, of Danville, Virginia, had called animal control Saturday afternoon after seeing the dog in the car, parked at The Streets of Southpoint Mall.

The officer who arrived checked the car, stuck a probe inside to take the temperature, but declined to take any action to remove the dog.

Instead, Miller said, he sat in his air conditioned vehicle and waited for the owners to return.

Miller, who serves on the board of a wildlife rehab center and volunteers with a humane society, said the dog, about six months old, was showing signs of heat stroke, but the animal control officer seemed unswayed by her opinion.

“He (the dog) was panting. His gums had actually already started to turn white,” she said. “It looked like he was kind of foaming at the mouth, that really thick saliva. And he was unsteady.”

The owners of the car, which had Maryland license plates, finally showed up about 4 p.m. The officer filed no charges, but told them to take the dog to a vet to be checked out.

Miller wasn’t satisfied with that ending. She continued to complain about how the incident was handled — and it paid off.

On Monday evening, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office announced a change in policy concerning animals left in vehicles.

Officers will no longer have to wait for animals to show signs of distress.

Under the revised policy, deputies will document the interior and exterior temperatures of a vehicle at least twice, and the deputy will use his or her discretion in determining whether the animal should be removed from the vehicle.

The new policy also allows deputies to decide whether to return the pet to its owner or pursue criminal charges after taking the animal to the local shelter.

“The Durham County Sheriff’s Office appreciates and listens to feedback from concerned citizens,” said the statement from the sheriff’s office statement.

Miller, despite winning a victory of sorts, sounds like she continues to be disturbed by it all.

“It is very clear that they could have charged this person. They did not have to wait two hours to get the dog out,” Miller told ABC11. “But the officers were not listening. They were very rude and belligerent. And it was very sad the dog suffered for two hours at least.”

Wales bans electric shock collars

ElectricityElectric shock collars have been banned in Wales.

Under the ban — the first in the UK — owners who zap their dogs for misbehaving face a fine of up to £20,000 or six months in prison.

Around 500,000 electric collars are in use in the UK, including some 20,000 in Wales, the Daily Mail reported.

Pet welfare groups, including the RSPCA and the Kennel Club, say the electronic devices cause unnecessary pain and suffering, and that they’d like to see the ban extended across Britain.

Proponents of the collars say they can improve the behavior of dogs that would otherwise be put down, train excitable pets to stop running into traffic and stop them from worrying sheep or inflicting other damage. Banning the collars, they say, could lead to shelters being inundated with unmanageable pets.

The RSPCA counters that, rather than using pain and punishment to train dogs, pet owners should use rewards such as treats and balls. It called The Welsh Assembly’s decision  “a historic day for animal welfare.”

“‘Wales has proven it is truly leading the way,” Kennel Club Secretary Caroline Kisko said, “and we hope the rest of the UK will follow by example to outlaw these cruel and unnecessary devices.”

Shock collars headed for ban in Wales

A proposal to limit the use of electric shock collars for dog training is being rewritten and the new version will totally ban use of the devices in Wales.

Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones said more than half the responses received during a period of public comment favored a total ban, according to the BBC.

Jones called for the ban on electric shock collars, mats and leads because of concerns that pets were suffering. Manufacturers have said they were “puzzled and disappointed” by the decision.

In a statement, Jones said those commenting on the proposal included dog trainers, vets, manufacturers of the devices and members of the public.

It’s expected to take about three months for the ban to take effect.