Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Has Your Dog Ever Done This?

Could Kennel Cough Be Good for Humans?

One of the viruses thought to cause kennel cough in dogs is called parainfluenza virus 5 (PIV5 for short).
A Representation of the PIV5 Virus
We humans are immune to it. If we get the virus, our bodies promptly destroy it, as well as any other pathogen (such as malaria or HIV) that happens to be along for the ride.

The ride-along pathogen is destroyed--but now our bodies recognize it and can clobber it if it shows up again.

That's the theory, anyway. The idea of using a virus as a delivery mechanism for a vaccine isn't new--but with most viruses, our bodies destroy the virus and its ride-along pathogen so quickly that we don't gain any immunity.

PIV5 seems to be different from the viruses that have been previously tried. Scientists at the University of Georgia have been experimenting with it for 15 years and have achieved promising results with mice. Immunity to the virus does not seem to limit its effectiveness in either mice or humans.
Biao He, Principal Investigator for the UGA Study
If the Georgia scientists are right about its potential, this canine virus could open the way for vaccines against a whole host of diseases that have previously been difficult or impossible to treat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

An Unusual Job for a Border Collie

In the town of Great Cornard, in Suffolk, England, a 6 year old Border Collie named Meg is on litter patrol.

Perhaps the most socially responsible dog on the planet, she cruises the local park every day with her owner, Ken Pople. When she finds candy wrappers or soda cans, she picks them up and tosses them into the trash can.

If she sees an irresponsible human littering, she's on it right away--and it goes straight into the trash. Her good habits have started to rub off on the local youth, too. After watching her put their used soda can into the trash, they decided to start picking up after themselves, proudly displaying their bagged-up litter to Meg's owner as they deposited it into the waste bin.

The local cleaning crew can take it easy. Meg has finished their job before they arrive, and the local dog warden (aka, animal control officer) is hoping to enlist her services in a local anti-littering campaign.

I wonder whether I could train Caitlin to put the stuff she finds into the trash instead of eating it. If she masters that, I'll see whether she can learn to scoop poop.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stem Cells From Nose Tissue Help Jasper Walk

This is Jasper, a 10-year-old dachshund, after he got hit by a car:
He is one of 34 dogs who took part in a research study at Cambridge University. The researchers took cells from the lining of Jasper's nose, called olfactory ensheathing cells, and injected them into his spine.

Here he is after the study:

Like several of the 23 dogs in the study who received the treatment, Jasper could soon walk on a treadmill with a harness. Many of the others regained at least some mobility in their hind legs.

Jasper had a slipped disc as a result of the accident in 2008. His owners had been using a trolley with a sling to help him get around. They say that now, "we can't stop him whizzing around the house, and he can even keep up with the two other dogs we own. It's utterly magic."

The research holds out hope that the same technique may eventually be used to restore at least some movement to humans with spinal cord injuries, although the researchers cautioned that a lot more research is still needed before that can happen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Horror Dog of the Nineteenth Century

Pit bulls weren't always the bad guys. A century ago they were thought of as "nanny" dogs, a gentle and reliable breed that you could safely leave your kids with. (Based on my own personal experience with pit bulls, that seems much closer to their true nature than today's stereotype. Our dog, Ben, was probably the most amiable and the most even-tempered dog we have ever owned. Rob always said of him that "he didn't have a bad bone in his body.")

In the nineteenth century, the breed that everyone was scared of was the bloodhound. Think Hound of the Baskervilles.
A Depiction of the Hound of the Baskervilles
Bloodhounds had a fairly grisly history in nineteenth century America. In 1840 the government under the Van Buren administration purchased 33 Cuban Bloodhounds to help evict the Seminole Indians from their tribal lands in Florida. The purchase caused a huge public outcry, as these dogs had been bred and trained for ferocity ever since the Conquistadors had used them to terrorize the native population in the 16th century. I'd like to think the protests were on behalf of the Seminoles, but I get the impression that most of the worries were that the dogs would used against other victims.
Hunting Indians in Florida with Bloodhounds
They were the breed most often used by runaway slave hunters. Former slave, Frederick Douglass described how slaves were often forced to beat the dogs in order to incite their hatred of black people. Harriet Beecher Stowe's best-selling novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, heightened the public fear of bloodhounds and enhanced their reputation as blood-thirsty man-killers.
Poster Advertising a Theater Production of Uncle Tom's Cabin
Certainly the slave hunters who owned and trained the dogs wanted their dogs to be feared, and doubtless trained them to be as vicious as possible.
Richard Ansdell's Painting "The Hunted Slaves"
Richard Ansdell's famous painting, first exhibited in London in 1861 further enhanced the bloodhound's already scary reputation.

During the Civil War, bloodhounds were used by both the Union and the Confederates to track down deserters and escapees. The commandant at Andersonville prison camp was sentenced to death because he (among other things) "feloniously, and of his malice aforethought, did cause, incite, and urge certain ferocious and bloodthirsty  animals, called bloodhounds, to pursue, attack, wound, and tear in pieces a soldier..."
Bloodhounds Catching an Andersonville P.O.W.
Just as dog attacks today are often wrongly attributed to pit bulls, 19th century dog attacks were often attributed to bloodhounds even though another breed was responsible or the breed of dog was unknown.

The bloodhound's ferocious reputation caused it to become highly popular among people who wanted a vicious dog. Like today's pit bulls, the dogs were often abused by brutal and uncaring owners and made to be scapegoats for the owners' sins.'s_Cabin#Eliza.27s_family_hunted.2C_Tom.27s_life_with_St._Clare

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dog Lovers Should Thank Michael Vick

The dogs often died fighting for their lives.
If they lost their battle, he killed them.
He killed them brutally--often with his own hands.
He hanged them, drowned them, and at least once, repeatedly smashed a little female who wouldn't fight against the ground until she died.
Fifty-one living dogs were taken from his Virginia property, and nine dead ones exhumed from their shallow grave.
I could hardly bear to read their story.
I struggle to understand what inner demons could drive a man to inflict so much suffering or allow him to enjoy watching it.
I couldn't bear to show the ones who were in really bad shape!

And yet...

The Vick case shone a much-needed light on a cruel "sport" that until then had been largely ignored.
In previous dog-fighting cases, once the dogs had served as evidence, they were routinely put down. As pit bulls, they were already assumed to be a "bad" breed, vicious, a danger to society, and after being used as fighting dogs, beyond rehabilitation.

Vick's dogs were given a chance. The court decided that the dogs should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and that any who were shown not to be aggressive should be allowed to live.

The evaluators were expecting that they might be able to find five salvageable dogs.

All but one passed the test. Despite the horrific trauma of their lives, several were friendly and outgoing. Some were fearful to the point of being almost catatonic, but very few of them showed aggression toward people or other dogs. Only one was so aggressive that they felt she could not be allowed to live. Another had to be euthanized when because her injuries were too severe to be treatable.
Rose had to be euthanized because of her injuries.
The rest went to sanctuaries and foster homes, where they were treated for their mental and physical injuries, with the hope that most might someday find loving homes, as in fact, many of them did.
Some of Vick's dogs at a reunion, Sept 2012
The Vick case also served as a turning point for law enforcement.

Although dog-fighting was illegal, it was mostly ignored. Michael Vick changed all that. As the case developed it became obvious that dog-fighting didn't happen in a vacuum. The people who were running dog-fights were also running drugs and guns and other criminal pursuits. The cops started to realize that a dog-fighting bust could very well lead to a big drug bust. They started to take dog-fighting seriously.

Because of this high-profile case, the Humane Society began to soften its rules toward dogs taken in dogfight busts. The dogs began to be treated and evaluated as individuals. Pit bulls, for almost the first time, were seen as victims, rather than perpetrators of violence.

Several of Vick's dogs won their canine good citizen certifications and went on to become therapy dogs.
Jonny Justice Helps Kids Learn to Read
Kids in Transition, in Camden, New Jersey, is a residential rehab facility for severely troubled youth. In 2010 the boys were visited by a pit bull named Sarge, a survivor of a dog-fight bust in Philadelphia. After meeting the dog, the boys read Jim Gorant's book about the Vick dogs, The Lost Dogs.
Cover of Jim Gorant's Book
Suddenly these boys, who had been in emotional lock-down, were able to begin opening up about the abuse in their own lives. Because they could identify with the dogs, they could empathize with them--the first time for many of them that they had been able to feel any pain other than their own.
Hector, A Vick Survivor, Meets with Kids inTransition, 2011
Because Michael Vick's dogs were saved, many other dogs were and will be saved. Both law enforcement and the public have become far more aware of the cruelty and criminality of dog fighting rings. And maybe, just maybe, these resilient survivors of Vick's abuse, will be able to save some equally abused young boys.

We should all thank Michael Vick.

The Lost Dogs, Jim Gorant, Penguin, N.Y., 2011
To see photos of Michael Vick's rescued  dogs:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Makes a Great Dog Park?

Hilda came to the dog park yesterday with a handful of photos she had taken on a visit to Ashley Memorial Dog Park in Auburn, and it started me thinking. What do the really good ones have in common? What can we do to put our own dog park within their ranks?
Big Dog, Little Dog Statue at Ashley Park

I googled "best dog parks" and found quite a few candidates for greatness. Here is a sample:

Pilgrim Bark Park, in Provincetown Massachusetts, is free to all licensed dogs. It is run by the Provincetown Dog Park Association, Inc., which has 4 volunteer Directors. It is entirely funded by donations and grants. Their website has a "merchandise" page on which donors can purchase park pavers with a dog's name, t-shirts, art, and other items, proceeds from which go to the park. Among their corporate sponsors are listed such companies as Petco, Purina, and Eukanuba. The park features sculptures and other works by local artists.
A Bench at Pilgrim Bark Park

Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park, Iowa City, Iowa requires a $35-per-year access fee for local users. It's run by the city Parks & Recreation Department. The park has 12 acres, including a pond and playground for the dogs, and sponsors many doggie recreation events throughout the year. It got a special mention for its bio-degradable poop bags with pipes to underground "poop tanks" where the waste is processed.
Map of Thornberry Off-Leash Park

The Millie Bush Dog Park (named for First Dog, Millie), in West Houston, Texas, is one of 20 dog parks in the Houston area that were created by the Houston Dog Parks Association, a 501c3 (non-profit) staffed entirely by volunteers.  The HDPA looks for land for new dog parks, oversees their construction, promotes them when they open, and serves as liaison and trouble-shooting organization for Houston dog park users. Amenities in the 13-acre park include swimming ponds, showers, and fountains for the dogs, shaded areas with benches, and a walking path.

Millie Bush Dog Park

Jackass Acres K-9 Korral, New River, Arizona is a members-only park run by Anthem Pets, a non-profit corporation whose mission is "to implement a fully rounded animal welfare program." It calls itself "the first ALL GREEN dog park in the USA." It operates a solar water pump and solar lighting. The artwork is created from recycled cars, and the artificial turf is retrieved from football fields.

Dog Playground at K-9 Korral

So what do all these very different dog parks have in common?

First of all, they all have enough money. If they are not part of a city parks department, they have corporate donors or reliable sponsors. Many of them, including the city-run parks charge an access fee to help with expenses.

Every single non-government run park is organized as a formal non-profit (501c3) organization with a federal tax identification number and a board of directors who operate under clear written rules and accounting practices. Their non-profit status allows them to attract corporate sponsors (who CANNOT donate to an entity that does not have that all-important tax i.d.) Small donors can also write off their donations on their tax return, which is not otherwise (legally) possible.

They are pro-active. They have goals, mission statements, and a vision of where they want to go and what they want to do. Because they are well-organized, they are able to mobilize volunteers and attract sponsors. They know where they want to go, and they have a road-map for getting there.

In addition, the people running these dog parks, as well as their donors and volunteers are well-protected from the liabilities that ensue if their organization is either unaware of or does not follow the laws governing charities and non-profits.*

For more information on the rules governing charities, see:

Here are links to some lists of "best dog parks."

A War Hero for Veterans Day

Stubby joined the 102nd Infantry by accident.
Sergeant Stubby
He was just a puppy when he wandered into Camp Yale in Connecticut and began to make friends with the soldiers who were training there.

He learned to recognize the bugle calls and do all the drills.

Private Robert J. Conroy adopted him. When the division shipped out, Pvt. Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard the S.S. Minnesota by hiding him under his overcoat. Stubby stayed hidden in the coal bin until the ship was well out at sea. He was again smuggled off the ship when they arrived in France.

Although dogs were forbidden in the camp, Stubby convinced the Commanding Officer to make an exception in his case. On seeing the officer, Stubby snapped to attention and saluted, raising his right paw smartly to his forehead.

On the battlefield, Stubby quickly proved his worth.

He visited the soldiers up and down the line, lifting their morale.

After being hospitalized for nerve gas exposure, Stubby became hypersensitive to its presence. If a gas attack was underway, Stubby could be counted on to warn his men, rousing them from sleep, racing between the trenches and barking the alarm. Calm under fire, he often located wounded comrades between the trenches and the enemy lines and would either lead them to safety or bark until the paramedics arrived to help them.

Stubby's crowning achievement was the capture of a German spy who was mapping the location of the Allied trenches. The German tried to run, but Stubby caught and held him until American soldiers could arrive to secure him. For that deed, Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, the first dog ever to receive rank in the U.S. Armed Forces.

He was later injured in the leg and chest by a grenade and was hospitalized. As soon as he was well enough to walk, he made the rounds of the hospital, boosting morale among the wounded.

Stubby got quite a few medals, including the Iron Cross that had belonged to the German Spy (That medal, unfortunately, was later lost.) After the town of Chateau Thierry was liberated, the townswomen made a chamois blanket for Stubby, on which his rank and his medals could be displayed.
Sgt. Stubby Wearing His Medals
By the end of the war, Stubby had taken part in 17 battles.
Stubby Receiving a Medal From General Pershing
Stubby's celebrity outlived the war. He is probably the only dog to have met 3 different Presidents, Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge.

He was given a lifetime membership in the American Legion, attending every Legion Convention and marching in every parade until his death.

He was also a lifetime member of the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A, from whom he received a guaranteed income of 3 bones a day and a place to sleep.
Stubby's Brick at Liberty Memorial, Nation WWI Museum
He is honored at Liberty Memorial, the National World War I museum located in Kansas City, Missouri. Stubby himself (after some work by the taxidermist) can be found at the Smithsonian Institution in an exhibition entitled "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War."
Stubby at the Smithsonian

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Does No Kill Mean No Killing?

Not necessarily.
A California shelter can legally call itself "No Kill" if it meets the requirements of Stature SB-1785 passed in 1998, which basically says that no animal that is "adoptable" or "treatable" (if it has a medical condition) should  be euthanized.

The devil is in the details of how you define those two terms. The shelters have a fairly wide latitude to decide, and the definitions cover a wide spectrum of different opinions.

In California, Monterey County Animal Control defines as "unadoptable" any animal for which it cannot find a home. Their shelters can establish their own standard for deciding when this is the case. On the other end of the spectrum, MaxFund, in Denver, Colorado, will not euthanize any animal except in cases of extreme physical suffering.

Bill Suro, co-founder and medical director of MaxFund, says the "adoptable" label is part of the problem. Shelters want to be designated as "no-kill" because a "no-kill" shelter attracts more donors.

On the other hand, there are too many abandoned animals, so many shelters give an "assess-a-pet" test. An animal that fails the test is "vicious" and "unadoptable." and the "no kill" shelter can euthanize it.
Dog Being Given Sue Sternberg's Temperament Test
This widely used test, created by Sue Sternberg, is sometimes called "The Sue Sternberg Slaughter" by its opponents.

Public opinion has been shifting toward "no-kill" for a couple of decades now. It seems possible that we may actually achieve a true "No Kill Nation" in the fairly near future.

But we aren't quite there yet.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Are Puppy Mills on the Way Out?

Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz once bought a Bichon Frise from a puppy mill. The dog had extensive medical problems. Koretz blames his dog's death on the conditions in the puppy mill. For the past two years, he has been leading the charge to ban puppy mill sales in Los Angeles; and on October 31, he succeeded.

The new law bans the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits, requiring that pet stores get their animals only from shelters.

Los Angeles is now the largest city in the U.S. to pass such a law, but it is not the first. A number of other California cities, including Chula Vista, already have laws restricting the retail sale of pets, and many other cities are considering them. The Chicago city council has already said that if the law passed in Los Angeles, they would follow suit.

The Best Friends Animal Society (about which I wrote last month) estimates that California shelters take in about a million dogs and cats a year, and kill about half of them. They also believe that about half of all pets bred in puppy mills end up in shelters. Their hope is that the number of shelter animals can be reduced, and that many people who don't want to get a pet from a shelter will happily buy the same animal from a pet store.

Best Friends has been spearheading efforts all over the country to get their puppy mill initiatives passed.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lucky Missy

Colorado has 54 mountains over 14,000 feet high. Mt. Bierstadt, close to Denver and as easy a hike as you're likely to get at that altitude, is one of the most popular mountains in the state.
Sawtooth Ridge, A Popular Hike on Mt.Bierstadt
On August 11 of this year, Scott and Amanda Washburn found a German Shepherd cowering among the rocks at 13,500 feet. She was too heavy and too badly injured for them to carry down the mountain, so they bound her wounds as best they could, left her with water, and headed back down to get help.
Scott & Amanda Washburn
The Forest Service expressed regret, but said they could do nothing.

Frantic with worry, the Washburns called everyone they knew, started a Facebook page on behalf of the dog, and posted a plea for help on a hikers' website.

Two days later, they headed back up the mountain with 8 volunteers, only to be caught in a snowstorm on the way up.
Getting Missy off the Mountain
Miraculously, they found the dog, bloody but still alive The rescue took 9 hours.

Although weak and badly dehydrated, the dog suffered no permanent damage. The owner, who had left her there on August 5 because she had lacerated her paws too badly to walk, was charged with animal cruelty. After a month-long battle over custody of the dog, the owner agreed to relinquish custody as part of a plea deal to get the charges reduced.

The dog had spent over a week on the freezing mountain without food or water. She then spent a month in the animal shelter while her fate was being decided.

But she is lucky to be alive and no longer with an owner who would (albeit unknowingly) cause her to be injured and then abandon her for dead.

The Nose Knows--But is it Probable Cause?

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments over two cases in Florida in which police justified their search because a narcotics dog gave an alert.

Case #1*: Joelis Jardines was running a profitable little business growing pot inside his house. But someone tipped off the cops. They took their dog, Franky, for a walk around Jardines's front porch. He alerted, the cops rushed in, find 25 pounds of ganja, and hauled Jardines off to jail.
Jardines's lawyer objected, saying that his client had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his own home, which the cops violated by bringing Franky onto his property without permission. The Florida Supreme Court agreed.

Case #2*: The cops pulled Clayton Harris over for driving his truck with expired tags. He acted nervous and refused to let the cops search the truck, so they called in Aldo, a German Shepherd, to do a "free air" sniff around the truck. He alerted. The cops declared that they now had probable cause to justify a search and found the ingredients for making methamphetamine. Two months later, the same thing happened again, but this time they didn't find any drugs.
Where's Aldo? This Might Just Be a Look-Alike
Harris's lawyer claimed that Aldo's nose was not sufficiently reliable to justify the searches, and the Florida Supreme Court agreed.

Dogs have been sniffing for narcotics since the 1960's, when the Israelis started using them to sniff out the narcotics that financed guns and bombs for terrorists. France followed suit in 1965, and the United States in 1970.

The Supreme Court has upheld the right of law enforcement to use narcotics dogs at airports and checkpoints, and up until recently in other cases where their use has been challenged.

Early indications are that this time it might be different.

The cases hinge on two different questions:
     What are the limits on a homeowner's right to privacy and on the cops' right to snoop?
     What criteria must police use to decide whether the dog's alert is reliable?

Some of the questions the Justices are asking include:
     Is using a dog the same as using a thermal imager to look inside the house (which was ruled unconstitutional in 2001)?
    Does it matter that Jardines had put mothballs around his house to mask the odor of marijuana?
     Is there a "magic number" of correct alerts needed to prove that a dog is reliable?
     Might the handler's expectation of finding contraband influence the dog's likelihood of giving an alert?
     Would police prefer a dog who gave more alerts, thus justifying more searches?

The Court is expected to hand down a ruling by the end of June next year.

*The cases are Florida v. Jardines, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-564; and Florida v. Harris, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-817.