Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stress and How We Relate to Dogs

I was going to write this blog yesterday, and then it happened. Despite the fact that I had been saving often, the changes for an entire book manuscript disappeared. A whole morning's work of formatting and neatening was gone somewhere into hyperspace. As I was contemplating this sad state of affairs and trying not to dissolve into tears, my dog Nestle came over and pushed his nose under my arm.
Okay, you have to know that the rules in my home office are that when a dog comes over, I stop work momentarily and we have a good scratch or talk or, if I'm not really involved in anything, maybe even a quick game. This is how I help save my sanity in an occupation that is never secure and always changing.
But yesterday, in a moment of high stress (my co-author was waiting for the manuscript to review this weekend), Nestle came over and I ignored him. And not just ignored him, but had to use some will power to not push him away or yell at him for bothering me.
And . . . now that things have calmed down, all the work is redone, and the manuscript is with my co-author. . . that made me think. If that can happen to me, who has a really stable relationship with my dogs and feels obligated to them as part of the way I make my living, then what happens to the relationship when a regular dog owner is under stress. Not that I mean in any way to denigrate dog owners, but most aren't home with their dogs all day, and don't make money from writing about them. What happens in the "average" family when things go wrong and the dog innocently walks over, maybe even to try and offer a kind paw?
I have no idea what the answer is to that question, but it's certainly bothering me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Survival of the Cutest"

That was the name of a recent article in Bioscience Technology. It referenced a study published in The American Naturalist comparing the skull shapes of domestic dogs to each other as well as across the order Carnivora. They made some odd statements about variation in skull shape in dogs supporting the Darwinian theory of natural selection. As the dogs they were studying were purebreds, and hence artificially selected by human breeders, their research actually has no relation whatsoever to Darwin's theory or natural selection.
But even overlooking that, the title of this article, and the statement by one of the study authors, Chris Klingenberg that "Domestic dogs don't live in the wild so they don't have to run after things and kill them -- their food comes out of a tin and the toughest thing they'll ever have to chew is their owner's slippers. So they can get away with a lot of variation that would affect functions such as breathing and chewing" is offensive. Again, the authors seem to gloss over the fact that the dogs are not making these selection choices. And they also seem to ignore the many fine working and herding dogs who do a lot more than chew their owner's slippers.
Yes, there are undoubtedly a lot of people who get a dog just because it's cute. But there are certainly also plenty of people who put a lot of thought into what a breed was bred for and whether that will fit with their family or not, or people who adopt mixed breeds and then work to understand them and fit them into society.
Humans have done many dogs a great disservice by breeding to extremes, so that the dogs have breathing difficulties or can't reproduce naturally or have joint disorders. Disreputable backyard breeders cross toy breeds to create "cute" "designer" "breeds." (Sorry for all the quotes, but all of those words have incredible baggage.) Articles such as this, with a combination of bad science and a look-down-their-noses attitude toward dogs and their owners certainly aren't needed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Animal Welfare versus Lab Animals

There was a thought-provoking article in The Scientist some time ago. It pointed out that over half of law schools in the United States now include animal law courses. Many of the same universities also have research programs that use the very animals protected by federal welfare laws.
Support for these animal law programs has come at least partially from contributions by the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights Law. This fund has provided $1 million gifts to Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Columbia, and other universities.
Under current law, animals remain property. The animal rights movement has been engaged for some time in trying to change that and have animal given the status of "personhood." This would have many, many serious implications well beyond the realm of research. After all, slavery was banned some ago, so you couldn't legally "own" another person. That may fit with the desired outcome of some animal rights organizations to do away with all companion animals, but it doesn't fit into my world.
Aristotle suggested a solution to this a long, long time ago. He saw three categories: things, animals, and persons. Persons had responsibilities to care for animals humanely. As you all know, there are few things treated better than a cherished family dog! Many of my friends have stated a sincere wish to reincarnate as one of my dogs because they envy their lifestyle.
So will law schools and medical schools on the same campus end up in conflict, or can we reach a reasonable level of "use" and "concern" regarding animals? After all, medical research in dogs can benefit both dogs and humans and medical research in humans can cross over and benefit dogs. We share so many of the same or related maladies that great things have been coming from the "one medicine" concept. This shouldn't really be the weighty topic it is made out to be.
Unnecessary research shouldn't be funded or done. Unnecessary duplication shouldn't be funded or done. In the best case, animals already suffering a disease should be used for research into the progression and treatment of the disease (rather than animals being given a disease on purpose) whenever possible. Computer models and analysis should be optimized to minimize the need for animal models. But animal research has a valid place in benefiting both animals and humans.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Haiti Earthquake

Isn't it interesting that there's barely been a word about animals in relation to the Haiti earthquake? I've gotten a couple of posts about humane rescue groups going in, but mostly even they indicated that most of the animals of Haiti are unowned. So the dogs and cats are feral, and no one is much concerned about them.
That's certainly a far cry from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when people who had no homes were still searching for their animals, and rescued animals were being sent around the country to foster homes. And of course the infamous "Snowball" incident where a young boy's puppy was quite literally taken from his arms because it wasn't allowed on the bus to go to temporary housing.
That also prompted me to consider that I've never heard another word after attending the local meeting on animals in emergencies.
I don't think we learn our lessons from these things very quickly.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Much Will People Put Up with from Their Dogs?

I happen to have the same name as another dog person, who lives in eastern Canada and works with aggression. Apparently she does not have a web presence, as people stumble onto my web and think I'm her. So I get questions. . . actually, usually more like pleas for help. . . about aggression problems on a pretty regular basis.
The latest one was from a woman with three dogs, the last being a recent addition. The first two dogs are attacking the third dog, who is disadvantaged (I think blind, if I remember correctly). There have been punctures, and the last time the woman was bitten (severely, as she put it) because she got between two of the dogs. She says she can't get rid of the new dog because he would be put down, and wanted the other Cheryl Smith to work with her one-on-one.
Certainly face-to-face work is the right idea with a problem such as this. But since she found me rather than the person she wanted, she's still without that help as far as I know.
So just how much will people put up with from their dogs?
I owned a psychotic Springer mix when my roommate adopted a terrier mix that had never lived anywhere but on the streets. The two were a disaster together. The terrier wouldn't submit to the springer, and if I wasn't on constant red alert, they attacked each other with vigor. We ended up with some expensive vet visits. When we had company, we had to put at least one of the two dogs away in a closed room so they couldn't fight. We couldn't relax in our own home because we had to be on the lookout for trouble brewing. But we didn't even consider getting rid of either dog.
I see two extremes with this problem -- the people who immediately ditch one or both of the dogs, and the people who hang in there through everything, paying the bills, often getting bit themselves. It's an odd display of our devotedness to our dogs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Going Green but Anti-CFL

First, I apologize for not posting sooner. I've been knocking down a lot of deadlines, and when I'm on deadline, the world pretty much goes away for me.
I want to rant a little about CFL bulbs, but first I want to provide my "green" bona fides, so that I don't just sound like some anti-environmental troglodyte. I drive a Prius. I fill only one 32-gallon trash can a month. I have 30 solar panels on my roof. I just bought a new washer and dryer even though my old ones are still working because the new ones are much more energy- and water-efficient. Ditto the dishwasher. Now I have to save up for the new refrigerator.
But CFL bulbs. Aaarggghhh! I can't stand the things. And neither can a lot of our pets. REmember those old "traditional" flourescent, and how they flickered and hummed? Well, the new CFLs do that, too, but they do it at a different rate. It isn't apparent to most humans. But the hum is smack dab in the middle of the cat's hearing range, and within most dog's as well. And, because my hearing range is a bit abnormal for humans, I think I hear them right at the edge of my hearing. In any event, they drive me crazy. I tried one in my bedside lamp and it lasted two nights before I put the old incandescent bulb back in.
Okay, most of you probably won't have the problem I have with them. But they've had a really awful effect on some pets. Sudden behavior problems appeared when CFL bulbs were brought into the house. Cats and some dogs became anxious or aggressive. The problems disappeared when the bulbs were replaced.
And that's while the bulbs are working as intended. You probably know that in order to fluoresce, they contain mercury. So you don't want to drop one. You could find yourself a newly-minted toxic hazard site. And you certainly don't want any of your pets interacting in any way with a broken CFL bulb.
I really can't stand the darned things, and if the legislation outlawing incandescent bulbs really does come into effect in the U.S., I guess I'll be smuggling them in from Canada. Or maybe by then LED bulbs will be ready for use. I have an LED fixture in the kitchen, and it's been performing well for a couple of years now. The LED bulbs that are available now only go up to the equivalent of 50 watts, so not enough to be really useful, and I've had problems with them burning out really quickly in fixtures. So they're not here yet (other than for little things like Christmas lights), but I hope they will be soon. I'd hate to have to become an international criminal to satisfy my need for safe lighting for myself and my pets.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Low Tide

In the Pacific Northwest, during the winter, low tides in daylight hours are a rare thing. So this week is a rare occurrence, with low tide yesterday at roughly 2 pm, and today at 3 pm. I was at one of our local beaches yesterday, and will shortly be at a different one today.
I blame it on my dog, of course. I say that he misses his beach walks in the winter, so we can't miss the opportunity when it arises. And that's at least partly true. He really does (once we got him past his initial fear of water) love the beach. It was our prime exercise location when I adopted him from the shelter -- he a young Border Collie mix with energy to burn, me an aging sedentary writer with no energy to spare. Together we developed a game of herding the waves, where he runs the shoreline right at the curl of the breaking wave, till it breaks, and he barks, and he comes back to do it again. It has been a marvelous way to burn off some of that fire.
Now, at age 11+, he doesn't feel as much need to herd waves, though a particularly good surf will still entice him. But he does still love all the smells and the many birds and digging in the sand. Even his dog companion, Diamond, at age 16+ still manages to sniff out crab shells and seaweed (both of which she considers edible delights), and because she has largely lost her hearing, is no longer worried by the crashing surf.
Of course, I should tell the whole truth and admit that I am greatly attracted to beaches even without the presence of dogs. The air is fresher, there's constant movement of something, there's always a new discovery of an agate or beach glass or, on rare days, a flower stone.
So, having conquered yet another deadline (at the last minute) and facing more of them the rest of the week, we will all take ourselves off to enjoy a good long walk on the beach before dark.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Law to Ban Puppy Mills

I just read about a piece of legislation passed by the Washington legislature, designed to stop a rising puppy mill problem in the state. The fact that I didn't hear about this until after its passage is a bit surprising, as I am supposedly signed up to receive email alerts on pending legislation related to animal issues. Guess that system isn't working.
In any event, we had several rather horrible seizures of dogs in Washington last year. One may ultimately result in the closure of the King County Animal Shelter, as trying to deal with the dogs, even with the support rescue groups, exhausted their funding. One bust found bodies of puppies in a freezer and dead dogs in a garbage bin. The surviving dogs were matted, in bad health, and of course unsocialized, and numbered about 160. This was only one of several puppy mills uncovered in the past year.
So the legislation, which took effect on New Year's Day, now makes it illegal to own or have in your custody more than 50 dogs capable of breeding and over the age of six months. Retail pet stores, veterinary facilities, and boarding facilities are exempt. The law also specifies requirements of caring for the dogs, including the size, temperature, and cleanliness of their cages. For anyone with more than 10 dogs, the law requires "adequate time and space to exercise." (I haven't seen a copy of the actual law, so am only going on what was reported.)
I haven't talked to any of my acquaintances in the world of purebred dogs and showing to get their take on this. They are usually staunchly opposed to any efforts to limit the ownership and breeding of dogs. But this seems totally reasonable to me. How can you effectively care for more than 50 dogs? I was stretched to the limit taking care of four, and have since cut back to two. True, I don't employ kennel staff, but neither do a lot of breeders, and even if you did, how many would you need to care for more than 50 dogs?
I need to get my hands on a copy of the actual legislation, but from what I've heard so far, this seems an eminently fair attempt to prevent more puppy mills from springing up in my state. I just hope there are some enforcement "teeth" included in the legislation.
And just so that the puppy millers can't simply flee across state lines, Oregon initiated similar legislation on the same day.