Thursday, May 9, 2013

Replacement for Dog Nose

This electronic sensor, developed by Spanish and Swedish researchers is better than a human nose at distinguishing apples from pears.

It has 32 sensors. The mechanism for determining the odor sounds fairly complicated and requires putting a sample inside a "pre-chamber" for analysis. The results can be viewed on a 3-D graph.

Will it replace a dog nose? 

It looks a lot more scientific, certainly, but, for now I'll place my trust in the dog.

Besides, no self-respecting dog is going to want apples and pears stuffed into his pre-chamber.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bad Rap

Results of research by the National Canine Research Center

December 2, 2008, Coconino County, AZ: An elderly woman is killed by 2 dogs reported to be Labradors. The Sheriff's office issued a press release to all media. The story is reported in only one local newspaper.
A typical "feel-good" photo of a lab on Google Images
I couldn't find the story.

December 19, 2008, Riverside County, CA: An elderly man is killed by 2 dogs reported to be pit bulls. The Sheriff's office issued a press release to all media. The story is reported in at least 285 media outlets, in 47 states, and in 8 foreign countries. CBS, ABC, MSNBC, USA Today, Forbes, and Fox News all carry the story.
A fairly typical portrayal of a pit bull
I found the story easily. Provocative terms such as "brutal" and "vicious" were prominent.

As of April 10, 2013, an ordinance requiring mandatory sterilization of all pit bulls and pit bull mixes is on track to become law in Riverside County.


No scientific test of the temperament of different breeds has ever found pit bulls to be inherently vicious. The American Temperament Test Society has a test simulating a casual walk through a park in which the dog encounters various challenging situations. The dog fails if it exhibits: unprovoked aggression, panic without recovery, or strong avoidance.
Pit Bulls did somewhat better than Golden Retrievers!
Pit bulls came in near the average of dogs. They scored way better than Chihuahuas, Shiba Inus, and Dachshunds, but they're bigger than those dogs, they look formidable, and everyone already "knows" that they're dangerous.

The National Canine Research Council warns that breed identification is highly unreliable, and found that many attacks attributed to "pit bulls" were actually perpetrated by other breeds. Like the Humane Society and the ASPCA, the NCRC feels that breed-specific legislation such as that proposed for Riverside County is ineffective and counter-productive.

The ASPCA website states that: "There is no evidence that breed-specific laws—which are costly and difficult to enforce—make communities safer for people or companion animals"
"I have a dream"--revisited
I couldn't agree more.

Officer, Please Don't Shoot My Dog!

Even people who own and love dogs often can't tell the difference between play and aggression. Many people who don't own dogs are scared of them, especially big ones--and their fear makes them even less able to read a dog's intentions.
Lobbying the Colorado Legislature after several incidents this year.
But they don't usually carry guns.

Most police officers don't know dogs any better than the rest of us. What's more, every time they go out on a call, their lives are potentially under threat. Often, they have only a split second in which to decide what to do.

And they do carry guns.

When they meet a dog in the course of their duties, the results are often disastrous-- but only for the dog.
She was shot by Atlanta police
An investigation in 2012 by Channel 2 News in Atlanta, GA, found that local police had shot almost 100 dogs in the past two years, many of them, like the one that sparked the investigation, family pets who posed no threat to the officers. The dog pictured above was shot by marshalls who came to serve a warrant on someone who hadn't lived at that address for eight years.
Shot by Police
According to the National Canine Research Council, dogs account for half of all intentional shootings by police. In their pamphlet for law enforcement professionals entitled The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters, they cite the 2003 case of Patton, a dog killed by officers who stopped the owners' car.
Killed by Police
While driving home from their vacation, the Smoaks family stopped for gas, inadvertently leaving a wallet on top of the car. Someone who saw their money flying down the road called police. Thinking there had been a robbery, the officers ordered  Mr. and Mrs. Smoaks and their 17-year-old son out of the car at gunpoint and handcuffed all three of them, ignoring their request to close the car door so that the dog couldn't get out. Patton jumped out of the car, tail wagging, to greet the officers, who then shot him in the head.

Shot by police
The incident was preserved on the police video:

Since I can't bear to watch any nature program in which a baby elephant might die, I wasn't willing to watch this either. I can't imagine how awful it must have been for the Smoakes--as for every other family whose beloved pet has been killed by the very people who are supposed to protect them.

The Smoakses sued and received $77,000 in an out-of-court settlement. The state of Tennessee then passed a state law requiring highway patrol officers to receive training in canine behavior.

Besides the anger and grief of dog owners whose pets have been killed, and the cost of lawsuits, which more and more are being won by the grieving owners, police departments suffer an erosion of confidence and community support, which has got to make their job even more difficult than it already is.
This dog's family got $20,000
Shooting a dog, even a threatening one, should be a last resort. Too often, it seems to be the first response.

In 1964 Abraham Kaplan formulated the law of the instrument as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.

Too many police officers seem to be operating under the law of the instrument.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dogs in Court

Russell rested his head on nine-year-old Mark's lap. After a while, Mark leaned over and confided to the dog, "Russell, this is really hard." Russell nuzzled him. By the time the interviewer returned to the room, Mark was finally able to tell the details of the physical abuse he had suffered, with Russell sitting quietly next to him during the entire interview.
Courthouse dog will comfort kids as they go through a stressful time
Russell and Friend, Tucson Arizona
Russell is a Court House Dog, trained to help and comfort people, mainly children, who must relive the horrific details of abuse and sexual molestation as they testify against their attackers in court.

California law provides that a child witness may have a dog with him or her on the witness stand.
She has the right to his comfort and support
Dory, a San Diego Court House Dog is one of a growing number of dogs who now work in 19 states, as well as Canada and Chile.
Dory and San Diego Police Officer Lynn Chavez. Dory is a service dog who helps kids in the county courthouse get through tough days.
Dory with San Diego Police office Lynn Chavez
In 2010, Dory and her handler, San Diego Police Officer Lynn Chavez were named as "Citizens of Courage," by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Dory is the first dog ever to receive the honor. Ninety-nine percent of Dory's work is with abused or molested children.

The requirements for the dogs are stringent. They must be quiet and self confident, highly social, and able to work with people whose behavior may be erratic and unpredictable. They must be outgoing and sociable with the public, but almost invisible when court is in session. They must remain calm, no matter what happens.

Although the dogs are legally neutral, some defense attorneys don't like them. In the summer of 2011, New York attorney Steven Levine appealed his client's conviction for raping his daughter because having a dog present reduced the plaintiff's level of stress, thereby increasing the likelihood that she lied, and depriving the accused father of a fair trial. The decision is still pending.

Meanwhile, more and more municipalities are deciding that a Court House Dog would be an asset to their judicial systems. My bet is that within a few years, every state will use them, and it won't be an issue for anyone.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sniffing for Snakes

Burmese pythons are invading the Everglades, and brown tree snakes from Indonesia have nearly wiped out the native birds in Guam.
Brown Tree Snake
The first Burmese python in Florida was sighted in 1979. Hurricane Andrew probably didn't help. It destroyed an exotic snake warehouse located near the Everglades in 1992. And then there are the people who buy pythons when they're little and set them free when they become large and dangerous.

Pythons now number in the tens of thousands, Their impact on the native wildlife has been disastrous. Marsh rabbits, raccoons, and opossums have almost disappeared, and sightings of white tail deer are down by 94%. Besides which, they compete with the already-stressed native predators such as panthers and alligators.
Python devouring deer in the Everglades
Swallowing a deer.
A few brown tree snakes came to Guam as stowaways in the late 1940's or early 1950's. Now there are two million of them. They have wiped out 10 of the 13 native species of birds and several species of lizards and have brought several other species to the brink of extinction.

They are found everywhere:
In a printer
In people's homes, in vehicles, washing machines, lawnmowers, swing sets, and barbecues, to name a few.
The snakes are mildly venomous, and they often bite infants and small children.
They regularly short out power lines, causing an estimated $4,500,000 in damage every year.
Photo of a Brown Treesnake which triggered a power outage (USGS photo).
This frizzled snake was trying to reach a bird's nest.

And they are trying hard to get to Hawaii, where the idea of Snakes on a Plane is scarier than any movie.
This one was on a Qantas flight
Why didn't they think of using dogs sooner?

The breed of choice in Guam is the Jack Russell terrier. They are rescue dogs imported from California and Texas, their flight to Guam and their training paid for by Wildlife Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The feisty and fearless little dogs inspect outgoing cargo and transport vessels, trying to find the snakes before they actually board a plane. They are small enough to explore the nooks and crannies where a snake might hide. In Hawaii, dogs check incoming aircraft for stowaways.

In Florida they use labrador retrievers trained at Auburn University's Canine Detection Research Institute. The dogs pictured below found nineteen pythons in 2010, one pregnant with viable eggs.
Jake and Ivy found 19 pythons.
The labs have to be trained not to go into the water.

Could Vapor Wake Dogs Have Prevented the Boston Marathon Bombing?

A number of people reported seeing sniffer dogs at the Boston Marathon. According to the Boston Globe 11 dogs were there. The bombs went off anyway
People at the scene were reportedly told, "It's just a drill."
Maybe the Tsarnaev brothers just waited until the dogs had left before placing their explosives.

One article I read suggested that dogs might have been unable to smell the explosives because they were inside a pressure cooker, which would have masked the odor. That seems unlikely to me. Bomb sniffing dogs are about 95% accurate at finding explosives, almost no matter what they're inside and regardless of what they're mixed with.

I think the more likely explanation is that the explosives weren't in anything the dogs were asked to sniff.
He sniffs one package at a time.
Traditionally, bomb sniffing dogs go to airports or other locations where explosives might be hidden and sniff luggage, backpacks, and other possible bomb-concealing objects that they encounter. The handler largely directs where they should sniff, and they sniff one thing at a time.

This works pretty well if you have pile of luggage to inspect or a line of people waiting at a security checkpoint.
He is unlikely to miss a bomb in this situation.
It doesn't work very well at an event like the Boston Marathon, where people are moving fluidly, and anyone could put a bomb anywhere at any time, including in a vest, in shoes, or  in his underpants.
He was the inspiration for using Vapor Wake dogs in L.A.
It was in fact, the "underwear bomber," of 2009, who inspired Mike Downing, chief of counter-terrorism for the Los Angeles Police Department to look for another option.

What he found is the newest generation of explosives sniffing dogs--"vapor wake" dogs developed at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Chaci has followed the "vapor trail" to the explosives.
The dogs, which are patented and cost $20,000 each, are specially bred, and trained from birth to detect the scent left in the air by explosives. They can then follow in the wake of the scent, tracking it to the source.

They can smell explosives up to 15 minutes after the person carrying them has passed. They can catch the whiff of a would-be bomber from across the street. They can follow the scent trail through a moving crowd and alert the handler, both when they first detect the scent and when they locate its source.

The NYPD has been using them since 2010. Since the Boston Marathon bombing, they're getting a lot of interest from other agencies, as well as from the media.

 They might well have made a difference.
good informational video

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Doggy Tramp Stamps

It's all the rage for fashion-conscious dogs: glittery "tramp stamp" tattoos.

The temporary tattoos are done with dog-safe glue plus glitter and rhinestones.

You can get them done in New York City at the Upper East Side Salon of dog stylist Jorge Bendersky.
He just finished the tattoo pictured above
Satisfied customers report that their dogs love the attention they get, and they consider the $100 price tag to be a bargain.

At least the dog tattoos seem to be in better taste than some of the tramp stamps people choose to put on their own behinds.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The First Female Astronaut

No, it wasn't Sally Ride.

The honor belongs to two canine cosmonauts, Desik and Tysgan, who made a sub-orbital flight on July 22, 1951. Both dogs returned safely, Although Desik was killed on another flight a few months later.

Desik & Tsygan, First Dogs in Space
All the canine astronauts (29 of them) were female because it was easier to make a space suit that would allow normal excretion. since the exit points for pee and poop are close together.
Original Space Module for Soviet Space Dogs

They were all strays. The space scientists thought that dogs who'd  already been living rough on the streets of Moscow would be better able to cope with the rigors of space flight than a pampered house pet. (19 of the 29 dogs survived and returned safely to earth.)
Doggy Space Suits
All but one of the dogs was "trained" for space flight. The training consisted of being confined for long periods in progressively smaller containers, wearing space suits, and being spun in centrifuges. They must have been running around loose at least part of the time, as two of the dogs ran off just before their scheduled flights. Smelaya was recaptured and sent into space on schedule, but Bolik made good her escape. She was replaced at the last minute by an unnamed and untrained street dog who was given the acronym ZIB (Substitute for Missing Bolik). Despite her lack of training, she survived the trip. I hope they at least gave her a name afterwards.

The first dog actually sent into orbit (and the only space dog whose name is commonly known), was Laika. She flew on Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. It was not planned that she would survive, and she didn't.

Laika, who died in the first orbital flight.
The year after that, Belka and Strelka, wearing red and green space suits, spent an entire day in orbit aboard Sputnik 5. Belka didn't enjoy the flight. By the fourth, fifth, and sixth orbits, she was barking trying to break free of her restraints. and vomiting.
Belka (on right) & Strelka, safely returned to earth
Because Belka had suffered so much distress, the first human spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin in 1961) was limited to a single orbit.

Both Belka and Strelka lived for many years after their adventure in space. After their deaths, both were stuffed. Strelka went on tour, while Belka remains at the Memorial Museum of Aeronautics, in Moscow.
Strelka in Australia in 1993
Strelka had many puppies. Nikita Kruschev presented one puppy, named Puchinka, to Caroline Kennedy in 1961. She went on to have "pupniks" of her own with First Dog, Charlie.
Puchinka with her puppies
Every article about Puchinka asserts that she has living descendants in the U.S. today. I believe it, but no actual living dog that I could find is being put forward as an example.

Too bad. I'd really love to know for sure that descendants of the space dogs are still among us.