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Tag: university of pennsylvania

Puppies in training to detect ovarian cancer

Two chocolate Labs and a springer spaniel are being trained to sniff out ovarian cancer at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a collaboration between Penn and the Monell Chemical Sciences Centers, Ohlin and McBain (above) and Thunder (left) will use their noses to detect the disease in humans.

Ovarian cancer kills more than 14,000 women every year and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the nation.

The collaboration, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, takes aim at the silent killer with a combination of chemistry, nanotechnology — and dogs.

Canines have been detecting lung and breast cancer for years. With an $80,000 grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, the new project will assess their effectiveness in sniffing out ovarian cancer, and continue an investigation that has been underway in Sweden.

The Swedish professor behind that project, who was using his own dogs for the study, is retiring. But he’s lending his expertise to those involved in the Penn project.

“He’s been advising us along the way to we don’t repeat the same mistakes he made along the way,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet.

While the disease is often difficult to diagnose, ovarian cancer’s victims have a survival rate of 90 percent. No effective screening protocol yet exists to detect cases in the early stages.

In the new program, scientists from Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology will take tissue and blood samples from both healthy and ovarian cancer patients. The samples will be analyzed by chemists, scientists, computers and the puppies at the Working Dog Center, who will be exposed to healthy samples and cancer samples in vented containers they can’t access, but can smell.

The dogs began their training at 8-weeks of age.

“They’re all fabulous and they are very strong in olfaction,” Otto said.

(Photos: Philadelphia Inqurer)

Laboratory use of dogs on the upswing

Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.

James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved

Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.

Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

Ivan Pavlov

Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.

While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.

Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.

This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.

No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.

Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.

Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said.  “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.

The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.

Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”

Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.

“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.

Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.

Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.

“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.

Rating Bo Obama’s job performance

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The First Dog has completed his first year in office, and, as far as we can tell,  he has performed his duties (that’s duties, with a “T”) admirably.

Bo has been cute, playful and photogenic, and he has made the Obamas, who can come across as a little robotic at times, appear a little more down to earth and, though they live in that big white house, a little more like the rest of us.

(You can view a nice Washington Post photo gallery of Bo — it comes up after the annoying advertisement – here.)

There are those who say the White House could be reaping more benefits from Bo, but in our opinion, it’s not about what your dog can do for you, but about what you can do for your dog.

The Obamas held off on getting a dog until they were settled in the White House. Obama was, in fact, the first pet-less president ever elected — a fact some say cost him pet-lover support during the campaign.

Once in office, the family’s scientific — some might say emotionless — approach to getting a dog, one they could be assured wouldn’t trigger their daughter’s allergies, and the fact they didn’t get a dog in need of rescue, may have taken away some of the moment’s charm as well, but not much.

All of this was studied by Diana C. Mutz — yes, Mutz –  the Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania who, according to Daniel Rubin in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer column, studied the electoral appeal of Barack Obama in the fall.

Her conclusion, says Rubin: “Dude could have used a dog.”

All of Obama’s pre-election talk about how they were going to get a dog underscored the fact that the presidential contender did not have one, according to Mutz’s research.

Mutz says Obama was the first pet-less elected president (Chester Alan Arthur, the 21st president, didn’t have one, but he was appointed after James Garfield was shot.)

More than 400 pets have occupied the White House, she says, and dog lovers represent a huge chunk of the electorate, with about half of U.S. households owning dogs (Republicans more so than Democrats, by 6 percent.)

Mutz, who has two dogs, three cats and runs an animal rescue out of her home, concluded that  the probability of voting for Obama went down 16 percent if one owned a dog.

Quite possibly, she says, dog owners identify with other dog owners, and  a sort of projection occurs where dog owners prefer the more “doglike” candidate.

I know I do; and by doglike, I mean honest.

As much as Bo — a Portuguese water dog that was a gift to the First Family from the late Ted Kennedy — might have helped in the campaign, the Obama family getting a dog then would have smacked of exploitation. I respect the fact they waited, and that, in the year since his arrival, he has not been overly-foisted on the public.

So keep up the good work, Bo, and just be a dog.

 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Delaware loses a police dog, another recovers

patchWhile a  Delaware police department worried about the fate of one of its police dogs — shot in the line of duty last week — it suddenly lost another one.

Bandit, a 6-year-old German shepherd who had served four years in the K-9 unit of the New Castle County Police Department, was euthanized Monday after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, according to Delmarvanow.com.

The dog had worked Saturday, and became ill Sunday night. He was rushed to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital — the same hospital where another of the department’s dogs, Diablo, was being treated for two gunshot wounds sustained in the line of duty four days earlier.

Diablo was shot twice last Wednesday in Wilmington while chasing down a suspect who police said had threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend. Diablo, who developed pneumonia at the hospital, remains in stable condition.

Bandit was surrounded by his handler Cpl. Paul Chickadel, family and friends when he died, police officials said.

In 2008,  Bandit sniffed out $32,445 in connection with drug investigations, responding to 389 canine calls and assisting in four arrests. In June, the team was certified in narcotics detection, tracking and patrol work by the National Police Canine Association.

The department said arrangements have not been finalized for a memorial service.

The revolution has not been televised

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The Christian Science Monitor recently took a look — a far deeper one than newspapers usually do — at the rising status of dogs in America, and concluded that there’s more behind the trend than a handful of wacky, dog-coddling pet owners.

It’s actually a huge story — one that’s been roundly missed because it has been a gradual shift, a slow evolution, and because the news media tend to be unable to look at dogs as serious subject matter. Instead it gives any pet story the cutesy pie treatment, complete with overused puns and chuckling anchorpeople.

The Christian Science Monitor story, by Stephanie Hanes, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, avoids that trap, and makes an effort to look at the reasons behind the dog’s rise from backyard denizen to full-fledged family member. It opens at Wagtime, the D.C. doggie day care center where around 60 canines show up each day, and whose owner is so busy she’s thinking about starting a waiting list for the full-time, $900-a-month slots.

“For many in the dog world, Schreiber explains, pet day care is no more of a luxury than preschool. Buying high-end dog food feels no more frivolous than serving organic fruits and vegetables; Prozac for the pup no more outrageous than Ritalin for the teenager.”

Wagtime, and all the other lengths Americans are going to for their pets, represent “a widespread cultural trend, a phenomenon that could easily be called America’s pet revolution,” the article says.

The revolution is bolstered by the country’s exploding pet population, which has increased threefold since the 1960s, according to some estimates, and pet industry sales that have grown to $46 billion this year from $17 billion in 1994, according to the American Pet Products Association.

But, the story adds, “… it is the dog that has nuzzled his way to the forefront of our pet revolution. Love him or hate him, Fido is changing American society – in ways municipal and medical, emotional and economic, social and scientific – as never before.

Read more »

PSPCA pinpoints illness as bacterial infection

The Pennsylvania SPCA (PSPCA) received test results from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine today confirming the cause of the recent canine shelter deaths as Streptococcus equi, commonly referred to as “strep zoo.”

The bacterial infection is easily treatable with penicillin.

Shelter officials had feared they might be be dealing an outbreak of  the more serious canine influenza, and imposed a quarantine after six dogs died from an unidentified respiratory illness earlier this week.

“We reached out to experts at Penn and we are in the process of implementing treatment protocol at both shelters,” said Director of Shelter Medicine and Chief Investigative Veterinarian Dr. Rachel Lee. The PSPCA reached out to animal shelters that have experienced similar “strep zoo” cases and is consulting with the Penn’s Infection Prevention Practitioner to eliminate the bacteria in the environment.

Nightline re-exposes pedigree problems

ABC News has boldly gone where BBC went before, airing a Nightline episode last night that looked at the world of purebred dogs and dog shows — and how some of the former are suffering for the sake of the latter.

The Nightline segment didn’t really pick up where “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” left off – it was more of a rehash — but it does signify, at least, some attention to a controversial issue that, for the most part, has been far less likely to surface on American shores.

“The Westminster Dog Show is the showpiece for a multi-billion dollar industry, a festival of primped pooches, prestigious prizes and perfect pedigrees. This year’s big winner, a Sussex Spaniel called Stump, became an instant celebrity,” the piece began. “The owners love it. But whether such competitive shows are good for the dogs is debatable.”

A bulldog is the first to be featured, shown being sprayed with a cooling mist backstage at Westminster to keep him from overheating.

Read more »

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