What Is It Like To Be a Dog? (Or a Dolphin)

“I can’t imagine not living with dogs. That would be really sad for me”, says Gregory Berns, author of ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’. A statement which will surely strike a chord with dog-lovers everywhere.

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Gregory enjoying the company of Callie & Cato

Growing up as a kid in Southern California, Gregory was blessed with the companionship of Pretzel and Popcorn, two golden retrievers. “Kids and dogs go together” he says. (Don’t they just!) Later there were 3 pugs, Simon, Newton and Dexter and another golden retriever, Lyra. Now there are Cato, Callie and Argo, “a yellow dog of some kind of mix.” 

Gregory’s hope for his new book is that understanding how animals think will revolutionise the way we treat them.

It was the loss of his beloved Newton in 2013 that prompted Gregory – a neuroscientist at Emory – to switch from studying the human brain to exploring the way dogs’ – and other nonhuman animals’ – thought processes work. And you will be particularly pleased to know, as I was too, that his studies are entirely non-invasive – no captive lab animals with electrodes implanted in their heads here, thank goodness.

We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” said GB.

What does go on inside a dog’s head?

This is something we’d all love to know. GB decided to use the same method with the dogs as is used to examine human brain activity, fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Nothing if not ambitious. Because of course, for fMRI to give useable results, the subject needs to keep completely motionless and yet alert for considerable periods. GB and his assistants had to give his new subjects, the dogs, extensive training to be able to do this.

In what proved a ground-breaking achievement, he opened a window, figuratively speaking, straight into the doggy brain, and recorded what he saw happening in there in real time –  this had never been done before. He was looking for answers to questions like:

  • Do dogs prefer praise from their human, or food?
  • What happens in the doggy head when we make them sit and wait for food or a treat?
  • What’s happening in that doggy head when they smell the scent of their human?
  • How do dogs recognise faces?

And the answer to the first question is: they like the praise from their human as much, and often more than the food. The interesting thing is that when the dog is praised, the activity in the doggy brain is located in the caudate nucleus part of the brain –  the same area active in ours when we receive some praise.

The second? When we ask our dog to sit and wait for the command before he/she is allowed to eat, the mental activity occurs, Gregory says, in a part of the prefrontal cortex, again the same as in humans. Not that we have to sit and wait for the command to eat, but it’s the same part of our prefrontal cortex that’s active when we have to exercise self-control.

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Number 3 (from the National Geographic) This takes us back to our friend, the caudate nucleus. That is the part of the brain associated in humans with reward and positive expectation. And the caudate nucleus was precisely the area GB and his team found activated in the dogs again, this time by the scent of the dog’s own human. And only by that scent. The smell of an unfamiliar human, another dog in the same household, an unfamiliar dog, and even their own scent got little response. Though we may not be too thrilled with theirs from time to time, our smell makes our doggies happy!

Lastly When the dogs were shown 50 photos of different people and 50 of everyday objects, recognition triggered activity in the same area of the dog’s brain, the temporal lobe, as with humans. “Dogs are the only members in the Canidae family that can recognize faces of people without training. Dogs can tell when we are smiling or not and are able to notice differences between two faces, something that even primates like Japanese monkeys aren’t able to do. Dogs also spend more time examining new faces compared to familiar faces.” Psychology Today

So the next time you’re wondering if your dog can read what’s on your mind, the answer is probably yes.”

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All I can say is, those dogs must have been getting some pretty dee-lish-us treats

(Admit it cat-lovers, as wonderful as cats are, can you imagine trying to get a cat to sit completely still while being shown 100 photos? I reckon after the first couple they’d give a bored yawn and start licking a paw.)

Now that Gregory has what he calls “a basic understanding of canine cognition”, he is interested in finding out what it’s like to be this dog, rather than that dog, what makes an individual tick. But the main take from his research is, how very very like our own are the processes inside the doggy brain. Hold that thought.

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Moving on to even bigger things –  the Brain Ark

What could be more important than sussing out the canine mind, you ask. Well, Gregory is doing something else that’s truly amazing – creating the Brain Ark, which aims to be a digital archive of the three-dimensional brain structures of megafauna: big cats, great apes, elephants, bears, wolves and so on.

What does this involve? Using technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to map the neural pathways of long-dead animals held in museum collections, starting with dolphins. “Dolphins are incredibly intelligent social animals but they’ve remained relatively mysterious. We provided the first picture of the entire dolphin brain and all the white matter connections inside of it.”

And “This year, we reconstructed the brain architecture and neural networks of the extinct Tasmanian toger, also known as the thylacine, using two brain specimens from museums, both of which were about 100 years old.”

And not just brains in museums, the brains of today too. But don’t worry – still entirely non-invasive. For the brains of species still hanging on to existence, like tigers, lions and other of the big beasts, he and his team hope to access creatures whose lives have ended in zoos. Gregory’s collaborators in this project include scientists from 8 other academic institutions across the globe, including the University of Oxford and the Smithsonian Institution.

The WWF has given the warning that 2/3 of animal species will be lost by 2020. To say that is a shocking possibility/probability, is a gross understatement. GB believes that since mapping brains of different species helps our understanding of their behaviour, the open-access store of information in the Brain Ark could prove not just a scientific treasure trove, but an invaluable aid to conservation. This awesome person is taking us on a new journey of exploration into the minds of the other animals who share our world.


So, what drives Gregory Berns?

Not just the scientist’s mission to pursue knowledge simply for its own sake. Nor even the prospect of helping conserve the Earth’s wildlife, vital though that is. Something more radical, more important, more potentially world-changing. In his own words:

“In the grand scheme of things, I’d like to explore the commonalities we have with other animals. That has important ethical implications for how we treat them and their right to exist in the first place. Animal welfare laws cover things like abuse – pain and suffering.
“I think we should go beyond that and acknowledge that animals also have a right to lead a good life – whatever that means for that animal.”

Go Gregory!


Books by Gregory Berns:

What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience

How Dogs Love Us: a neuroscientist and his dog decode the canine brain


Sources

Neuroscientist explores ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’ – Phys.Org

A dog’s dilemma: Do canine’s prefer praise or food? – ScienceDaily

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You Love Animals, Right? Ever Wondered Why Others Couldn’t Care Less?

It’s mystifying, isn’t it? We find ourselves suffused with joy watching the sparrows bathing in the bird bath, spotting bees, butterflies and dragonflies on a walk, discovering a small crab in a rock pool, watching swallows gathering on a wire in autumn, hearing the geese migrating south for winter, or stroking a donkey over the fence. We can’t let a dog or a cat walk by without moving in for a cuddle or a stroke, and telling them how beautiful they are. But most of all we love our own fur babies, sometimes (often!) more than other humans. So how can it be that there are actually people who couldn’t care less? It’s incomprehensible.

But it’s a fact. If the presence of companion animals in the family is the measure of this phenomenon, it’s a 50/50 split, half of us love’em, the other half doesn’t. Here in the UK anyway.

(Canines or felines? Another 50/50 split, 10 million of each. But let’s leave the dog v cat debate for another day.)

If you’re in the weird 50% – the animal un-lovers – you probably wonder what we get out of caring for our dogs – they bark, need constant walking and a steady supply of poop bags. Or our cats, who have no sense of loyalty or gratitude, scratch the furniture, and are alternately aloof or needy and demanding.

We could tell you companion animals are therapeutic for us. Studies show they lower their human’s blood pressure, alleviate loneliness and depression, boost the immune system, and increase our lifespan. Apparently though, there are just as many studies that show our beloved furry friends confer no health benefits. And we who live with them live no longer than those who don’t. Health and longevity is more to do with where you fall demographically than if you live with a fur baby – which incidentally, you’re more likely to do if you’re married, white, a woman, wealthy and own your own home. All of which happen to be predictors for better health and longer life as well – nothing to do with beloved Fido or Felix. Well, whatever the studies say, we on the animal-loving side couldn’t imagine life without them.

So why the split? Nature or nurture?

We all assume that if you grow up with animals, in a family that loves animals, your fate is sealed – in a good way. The best. It’s as simple as that. I grew up with 3 cats, a dog, rabbits and a goat, and a mum who loved animals, so that works for me. I’ve never lived without a nonhuman animal by my side. How about you?

But there’s a little more to it than you might have thought. First let me ask, have you heard of anthrozoology? It is, it seems, a new science “dedicated to discovering the true nature and depth of the human-animal bond” – news to me too, but I like it! (NB though all you anthrozoologists out there – humans are animals too).

In his book “The Animals Among Us”, leading expert in animal behaviour and anthrozoology, John Bradshaw traces the thread back to our ancient ancestors to unravel how living with other animals shaped our own evolution as well as theirs.

How did some animals become domesticated in the first place?

Dogs became distinct from wolves, cats from wildcats, cattle from wild oxen, sheep from wild mouflon and so on, between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, their DNA tells us. But how did those genes for tameness evolve? Because at any stage, if the semi-tame animals got to mate with their wild cousins, the tameness genes would be diluted, and there would be no domestication. To prevent that, we humans had to keep ‘our’ animals apart, inaccessible, by physically containing them in our own habitations. And so we developed an emotional attachment to the creatures who lived among us.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time humans with empathy for the animals and with skills in animal husbandry thrived, and passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants. Meanwhile, those who didn’t go to the trouble of keeping domesticated animals but continued to rely on hunting, were fading out.

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The creature-carers were winning the evolutionary war.

In that case, how did we arrive at the 50/50 split? Where did the animal un-lovers come from?

John Bradshaw conjectures that at some point in history, those guys who were not living with domesticated animals came up with the brilliant idea of letting those who were (our half of the equation), do all the work, and then raiding us, stealing the animals and taking us slaves. Let’s call it the Genghis Khan M.O. And so the animal un-lover population made a comeback. (We must assume their raids weren’t always successful, or else it would have been our half dying out!)

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The fearsome Genghis Khan as depicted on a Mongolian banknote

Genghis Khan makes a good metaphor for ruthless raids and pillage, but since he made his entrance on the world stage a mere thousand or so years ago, he can’t be held personally responsible for the tribe that were evolving into animal un-loving raiders several thousand years before that. But you never know, it’s perfectly possible he was a descendant of them. Whatever, it’s a fascinating fact that 1 in every 200 men in the world alive today is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. Crazy, but true. It would be even more fascinating to know if all those 16 million guys are genetically predisposed to be indifferent to animals!

But back to serious science. When it comes to engagement with companion animals, a 2015 study designed to disentangle nature and nurture, found that “genetic factors accounted for as much as 37%” of the difference in middle-aged men. Why not women? Who knows. But anyway, animal loving is in the genes!

At least in part, you really are genetically predisposed to love, or be indifferent to other animals. It’s a trait you have inherited – as well as learned – from your parents, and your parents’ parents before them. And so on, back to the time when your ancestors chose one of two different paths, to domesticate or to hunt and raid.

Love animals, Love Nature

Now we come full circle.  Other recent studies show that we really are two entirely different tribes. If you love animals, you will love Nature too. Or if indifferent to the one, you’ll be indifferent to the other. “It seems that people can be roughly divided into those that feel little affinity for animals or the environment, and those who are predisposed to delight in both.” 

Why are we not surprised?


If you love animals and care about the environment, and even if you don’t but care about your own health, cut back on the meat and dairy. Find out why that’s a good idea here. 10 top tips for doing it here


If you are thinking of bringing a companion animal into your home, please #AdoptDontShop  Just look at these sad statistics:

  • The Daily Mail reported that the number of stray or abandoned dogs in the UK reached 110,000 in 2013, and that 21 are put down every single day.
  • The RSPCA rescued and collected 118,994 animals of all kinds in 2015 in the UK, and were only able to rehome 47,651 of those.
  • The ASPCA tells us that in the USA approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
  • And that each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats)

And they are not just numbers. Each one an individual longing for a loving home.


Postscript If you struggle to make sense of my exposition of human and non-human animals’ evolution in pre-history, you may need to read John Bradshaw’s book, where he does it at greater length, and so much better.


Source

The science behind why some people love animals and others couldn’t care less – PhysOrg

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Infinite Monkeys & the White Bear Problem

5 fun instances of animals illuminating scientific theories

Beginning with one that’s entirely new to me. But maybe you know it?
The White Bear Problem

Russian writer Dostoevsky summed it up neatly:Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” Oh yes.

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No-one thought any more of Dostoevsky’s intrusive polar bear until 30 years ago when pyschologist Daniel Wegner decided to put the writer’s saying to the test. He did indeed prove that the more people were asked to suppress a thought (like the white bear), the more it cropped up in their minds. He called it the Ironic Process Theory.

Why does this happen? Apparently because two different parts of the brain are at work – against each other. While one dutifully ignores the thought as instructed, another part intermittently calls it to mind in an attempt to ensure the thought is being successfully forgotten.” Humans not so clever after all?

From bears to butterflies-

The Butterfly Effect

The idea, as everyone knows, is that something as infinitesimal as a butterfly fluttering its wings sends reverberations across the world. Or to be more precise, a butterfly fluttering in the rainforest could result a few weeks later in a tornado thousands of miles away. That was the original concept of mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz.

The butterfly was a nice metaphor for his startling discovery that by simply rounding numbers to slightly fewer decimal places than he normally did in meteorological computer calculations, the tiniest of changes, he ended up with a wildly different weather forecast.

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But with real butterflies, is the Butterfly Effect true? Scientifically speaking, no. Scientists say the actual impact of a butterfly flapping its wings would be so tiny as to be quickly absorbed by the surrounding air pressure.”

Scientists don’t know everything though, do they? This is one I’d still like to believe – but maybe without the tornado. Now for the toughie

Schrödinger’s Cat

Schrödinger’s Cat has me nodding sagely at any mention of it, “Ah yes, of course, Schrödinger’s Cat”. When truth be told, and much to my frustration, it has me completely baffled. I’ve never been able to get my head around it – until now. I think I may have got it at last – or have I? See if it makes sense to you.

It’s all about quantum physics. (Mind going blank already.) Quantum physics is about subatomic particles, which behave in very odd and unpredictable ways – apparently. So it’s absurd to try to apply quantum theory to predict how a radioactive atom will behave – apparently.

To illustrate this, your friend and mine, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger tells us to imagine some radioactive matter in a locked box with a cat. Inside there is also a Geiger counter which as soon as it detects radioactivity, will smash open a vial of poison. And over the period of one hour there is a 50% chance of the radioactive matter starting to decay and the poor old theoretical cat being poisoned.

“Quantum theory states that subatomic particles can be in two states at once until they’re observed. Similarly, since the cat’s life depends on what’s happening inside the radioactive atom, until we look in the box the cat is theoretically both alive and dead.

For Schrödinger, this thought experiment highlighted a paradox at the heart of quantum mechanics: while a particle may be able to exist in two states, the cat must be either alive or dead regardless of whether it’s being observed – it can’t be both.”

Mmm, still not sure I get it. But at least no cat was harmed in the making of this theory.

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This isn’t Schrödinger’s cat. This is Barry. Barry is a little sad he hasn’t had a theory named after him yet. Maybe next year, Barry.
The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

Otherwise know as the Porcupine Problem, for obvious reasons. This one is not the brainchild of a scientist, but a philosopher – Arthur Schopenhauer. But psychologists adopted it as a useful analogy, comparing the difficulties of human intimacy with two hedgehogs huddling together for winter warmth.

The closer each one in a pair of hedgehogs or porcupines (or humans) gets to the other, the more likely they are to get hurt. On the other hand, if they, and we, keep a safe distance, we all end up cold and alone.

There has to be a happy medium somewhere. Looks like these little guys may have found it.

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The Infinite Monkey Theorem

Who dreamed this one up remains a mystery, but it’s all about probability. We all know the wonderful but mildly insane idea that given an infinite number of monkeys banging away on an infinite number of keyboards the complete works of Shakespeare will eventually be reproduced.

“While this is a theoretical near-certainty, the odds on it happening in reality are infinitesimally tiny. Many trillions of monkeys typing from the dawn of time to the end of the universe would be highly unlikely to manage even a Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Sadly, Plymouth Uni arts students and lecturers – not scientists – were not content with leaving this as a fun theory. They decided to put it to the test. They installed a computer in a compound with 6 macaques. A month later they went to check what the monkeys had written: 5 pages of gobbledygook text, showing for some strange reason a marked preference for the letter ‘s’.

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Good on the monkeys though – they well and truly showed what they thought of their wrongful incarceration, and indeed the entire procedure. They bashed the keyboard with a stone, and used it for a toilet.


Footnote

This is all pretty frivolous stuff, I know. But with all the appalling news bombarding us daily about climate change, extinctions, destroyed habitats, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, floods, forest fires, a tidal wave of human and nonhuman animal suffering, the possibility of nuclear war, and acts and statements emanating from the White House which I can only call evil, sometimes we do just need a little lighthearted distraction.

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Radio 4 in Four – Six theories that use animals to explain their meanings (Stealing the cat caption is my compliment to the uncredited writer of this article)

Images Pixabay

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Will the Great American Eclipse make animals act strangely? Watch & See

Total Solar Eclipse Day Monday 21st August 2017

What makes this one so special is that it will cut diagonally across the entire USA from Oregon down to Charleston and beyond. The last time a total solar eclipse swept the entire breadth of America was 1918, beyond the memory of anyone alive now, I suspect.

So, a particularly exciting and dramatic event for the American people. But what about the nonhuman animals? And plants? Some of the ways nonhumans react to this strange disruption of the normal day is already known to scientists. Birds fall silent and some go to roost. Cows lie down, crickets start to chirp. Whales and dolphins have been seen to swim to the surface 5 minutes before the eclipse begins, and stay there for totality and 5 minutes after. Other animals also seem to know beforehand what is coming.

But now the California Academy of Sciences needs you!

Any observations of animal behavior you make during the eclipse will become highly valued data. Whether you notice squirrels in your yard, bats, owls, horses, pigs and cows, plants, or even your own dog or cat – at CAS they want to hear about it. For starters you will need to install the iNaturalist app on your phone or tablet. Then please click on this link for full instructions on how to participate in the Life Responds Project. It’s easy.

For a taster of the day, try out this clip (With thanks to AwarenessHelps.com)

Source: Will the Great American Eclipse make animals act strangely? Science says yes

Cover pic Pixabay

Update

August 22nd 2017 How animals were observed to behave during the eclipse – LiveScience

Cool Cats & Dandy Dogs Get Ready for Clear the Shelters Day

Have you been thinking about adding to your family with a new furry? Well, tomorrow, Saturday August 19th is The Day to find yourself that one special pooch or moggie who’s sure to steal your heart away. It’s Clear the Shelters Day, when right across the USA shelters offer free or greatly reduced fees for all would-be adopters. It’s a once-a-year event to find loving homes for every fur baby in the participating shelters. Want to know more about this marvellous scheme? Click here and here

And to prod you in the right direction, here is a selection box of cat and dog trivia, facts and fun to dip into, that I hope will yield up one or two surprises.

Those of us already sharing our homes and lives with a BFF or three are pretty sure we can read them like a book, aren’t we. Every twitch of the ear, wag of the tail, arch of the back, squint of the eyes. We live with them for goodness sake. We know them so well that every time some new piece of scientific research on Felix or Fido reveals its (unsurprising) findings, we just go “Dah. Like we didn’t know that already”.

Except this time. Because I’m willing to bet these researchers have turned up an oddity that will have you eyeing your pooch anew.

The tell-tale tail

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“It now appears that when dogs feel generally positive about something or someone, their tails wag more to the right side of their rear ends, and when they have negative feelings, their tail wagging is biased to the left.

In spite of having lived with dogs all my life, I can’t claim ever to have noticed. But apparently, that left/right business isn’t as surprising as it seems at first glance. Many animal brains including humans, have a left hemisphere (which controls the right side of the body) that is activated by love, happiness, serenity. And the right hemisphere (controlling the left of the body) by withdrawal, fear, depression.

And, it’s not just, “Was that a left wag, or a right?” The language of doggy wag is a bit more complicated than we might have thought. Apart from the left/right business, the researchers noted 4 different kinds of rear end motion, and surprisingly they don’t all mean ‘I’m-so-happy-to-see-you’. Find the full wag guide here

action-2483689__340-1Cats on the other hand, just wag their tails when they are angry, don’t they? As befits the cat’s enigmatic aura, the feline wag is even more subtly nuanced than the canine. So we have:

  • The Vertical Tail and Tail Quiver
  • The Wrapped Tail
  • The Tail Flick (Or, the Straight Out and Back Tail)
  • The Swish
  • The Fluffy, Arched Tail
  • And the Twitch

What does it all mean? To whet your appetite for more, I’ll let you in on the meaning of the first, the VT & TQ: “An upright (or vertical) tail and tail quiver (or rattle tail) are often signs of a friendly greeting from your feline. An upright tail is usually a sign of a happy, confident cat” You knew that already of course! More on the cat wag guide here


It’s not fair

From a piece of research in Vienna, scientists found that dogs are right on the button when it comes to what is fair and what is not.

They put two dogs in separate cages, but where they could see each other. Each had a buzzer they could press with their paw. Sometimes when they pressed it they would both get a reward, but sometimes neither would. Sometimes one got a reward and the other didn’t. Sometimes one got a better treat than the other. What happened? The one consistently coming off worse would just give up pressing the buzzer. No-one wants to be the underdog.

But he or she would happily keep pressing the buzzer and not getting a reward, as long as the other dog didn’t get one either. Or, if there wasn’t another dog to compare themselves with – proof that it wasn’t just boredom that made them stop. The pooches were aggrieved. They stopped because it just wasn’t fair.

Is this something dogs have learned from living with us humans? It seems not. The researchers also tried the experiment on wolves – and got the same result. In fact the wolves stopped pressing even quicker, the alpha male quickest of all.

Dogs have been among us for maybe 40,000 years, but it seems their view of fairness learned long ago from dwelling as a member of a pack lives on.

Afterthought: wouldn’t it be fascinating to know how cats would respond? Would you like to venture a guess?


This dog stays wild!

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We’re talking Australian dingo here. In traditional aboriginal society, dingo pups were taken from the wild and draped around women’s waists like garments of clothing. Like you do. The women even breastfed them. In return, they kept the women warm, were an invaluable help in the hunt, a source of protection – and sometimes of food.

But before the pups reached the age of two, they were returned to the wild to breed. And in spite of thousands of years of semi-involvement in human lives, the adult dingo still to this day fails “to respond to any amount of discipline, kindness, bribery or coercion.” A dingo pup taken from the wild can not be trained up as a family pet. “Affectionate and tractable when young, eventually their carnivorous nature gets the better of them.”

The dingo’s most astounding gift though, is its ability to divine water. These wild dogs can detect water both above and below ground, and humans throughout history have put its remarkable skill to good use. Records reveal many accounts of “wild/semi-wild dingoes leading Europeans to lifesaving water springs.” And Australian place names still bear witness to this talent: Dingo Soak, Dingo Springs, Dingo Rock, Dingo Gap.

In aboriginal culture, dreaming tracks or songlines trace the dingo’s paths across the continent, from one water source to another. To one well-versed in them, the songs of the dreaming tracks serve as maps, since the words describe landmarks and waterholes. So by singing them they can navigate their way even over the vast Australian desertland. The dingo has shown them the way.

You can find out more about these fascinating wild dogs, and see an extraordinary image of Aboriginal women with dingoes wrapped around their waists here


But enough of dogs. Now for a bit of quality time with the cats.

Cuddles & Cat Flu

This research aimed to find out what effect if any positive interaction with humans has on shelter cats’ health and wellbeing. So, on arriving at a Vancouver cat shelter, each cat was divided into one of two groups. The ‘treated’ group got quality interaction with a human 4 times a day, 10 minutes each time, for 10 days. The control group had someone stand outside the cats’ cage with averted eyes for the same amount of time.

Surprise, surprise, these are the findings:

  • Human interaction by petting, playing and grooming improved shelter cats’ welfare
  • ‘Treated’ cats were more content and less anxious and frustrated
  • ‘Treated’ cats had increased levels of immumoglobulin [meaning healthier immune systems]
  • ‘Treated’ cats had less respiratory disease

cat-714358_960_720Even if that falls into the cat-egory (ahem) of research results stating the obvious, it does prove one thing: much as they pretend they don’t – putting on every appearance of just about tolerating us and condescending to live with us on their terms only – they do actually need us after all!


But before we get carried away with that good news, I regretfully have to confirm what we all always suspected –

Dogs really do love us more than cats

Five times as much in fact, so the scientists tell us. Who knew you could measure love? Find out how they do it here

Cat lovers take heart though – they do love us a bit😊


Now for something altogether more serious

Are Felix and Fido driving climate change?

American Professor Gregory Okin decided to find out. And these are his sobering findings:

  • Meat-eating US dogs and cats create 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to a year’s worth of driving from 13.6 million cars
  • That tonnage of carbon dioxide makes up 25 – 30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the States overall
  • If the 163 million American dogs and cats were a separate country of their own, “their fluffy nation would rank fifth in global meat consumption behind only Russia, Brazil, the United States and China”. Now that is scary.
  • And don’t forget the ‘waste’ – they produce 5.1 million tons of feces, as much as 90 million Americans

So what’s the answer? Our dogs and cats are family. No way are we going to give them up, even for the best environmental reasons in the world. Prof Okin doesn’t offer solutions, other than his half-joking suggestion that we transfer our affections to naturally vegetarian pets like hamsters or birds – or little ponies that can mow our lawns. Well, I have a couple of suggestions:

  1. Feed your furry friend veggie/vegan dog and cat foods, like Ami, Benevo, and Yarrah. Taurine and arachidonic acid are vital for cats, but these brands do contain them, so don’t listen to those who like to tell you a cat can’t live on a vegetarian diet
  2. DON’T give up the chance to save the life of a rescue pet – a lovable little critter that might well end up euthanized – by getting your BFF from a pet store or breeder. You would simply be lining the pockets of people who exploit dogs and cats just for money.
  3. ALWAYS go to your nearest animal shelter – TOMORROW! – and give a loving home to a pet who’s been abandoned through no fault of their own. They will reward you a thousand times over.

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#adoptdontshop


And finally, just for fun!

 

Actions to take for dogs and cats

Sign up to Cruelty Free International’s campaign to put an end to cruel experiments on dogs here

Speak out for the dogs and cats suffering at Liberty research here

Sign to end the killing in US animal shelters here

(All images Pixabay)

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3 Genius Ways of Helping Rescue Dogs – & Cats – But Mainly Dogs!

“This was just a small, tiny, organic, nice gesture of kindness and it’s resonated with people all across the country. Anybody can do it. It doesn’t have to a be big thing; it can just be walking a dog.”

Luis Escobar, coach at Californian high school St. Joseph’s one day surprised his runners with a bunch of four-leggers super keen to join them on their run – pooches normally cooped up in the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter.

Fun was had by all, regardless of leg number. Luis made this little video.

As you can see, all relished being out in the big wide world, though one was a bit of a tortoise. And Fred – well Fred preferred to travel in style (reminds me of my own rescue canine!) It proved for him a tactic with a payoff, because he scored himself a nice new home – runner and ‘Fred-carrier’ Josh Menusa and his family ended up adopting him.

As if this little story is not wonderful enough, after Luis posted his video on Facebook, his simple but genius idea caught fire and spread all over the country. And why wouldn’t it? Runners love to run, and so do pups – a match made in heaven.

Find out more here


Now for genius off-the-wall idea no.2 – books

A good run-out, yes that makes sense, but books? For dogs? Seems the mutts are particularly partial to a good animal yarn. But if you’re letting your imagination run wild with visions of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “Lassie”, and “101 Dalmations” lining the walls in dog pens, let me bring you gently back down to earth. Dogs are clever but not that clever. Or maybe they are, because they let us do the work for them and in some choice shelters they have a child human read to them. Why keep a dog and bark yourself, is what they say.

The kids sit on the floor in front of the pens so it’s the dog’s choice how much he/she wants to interact. It’s a quiet gentle activity that seems to have a calming effect on stressed animals.

It helps shy and fearful dogs overcome their insecurities and increase their chances of being adopted.”

This little guy is rapt!

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Pic Humane Society of Missouri/Facebook

And everyone’s a winner:

  • The kids aren’t frightened of making a mistake reading to animals as they would be with people. It increases their confidence – animals are so nonjudgmental
  • A study at the University of California found that children who participated in a 10-week reading program at a shelter saw a 12 percent improvement in their reading
  • It is the perfect way to teach children the importance of compassion, and the need to adopt not shop
  • It helps create positive ties between a shelter and the community it’s in

Why not find out if your local shelter has such a scheme, and if not, suggest they might like to start one.

Plenty more lush ideas of how you can show your love for shelter animals here


Our third genius idea really is genius! Where do folk rustle up these amazing ideas? I wish I knew. Here you go – optical illusions

Under the slogan, “There’s always room for more. Adopt”, World for All in Mumbai, India commissioned these marvels that speak better than words because they speak to the heart.

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All 3 amazing pics by Amal Jadhav for World for All’s adoption event

What family could resist finding a place in their lives for a needy animal after seeing these? The pics’ impact was huge. Attendance at the adoption event was up 150 percent from the previous year, and saw 42 adoptions. The plan is to repeat the event yearly after such phenomenal success.

Thanks to the Dodo for that uplifting story


So there we have it – three stories of fun ways to help get animals out of shelters and into loving homes. When you decide to get a dog or a cat to make your home complete, ‘paws’ for thought, and ADOPT, DON’T SHOP.

Just look at these sad statistics:

  • The Daily Mail reported that the number of stray or abandoned dogs in the UK reached 110,000 in 2013, and that 21 are put down every single day.
  • The RSPCA rescued and collected 118,994 animals of all kinds in 2015 in the UK, and were only able to rehome 47,651 of those.
  • The ASPCA tells us that in the USA approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
  • And that each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats)

And they are not just numbers. Each individual one an aching heart just crying out for a loving home. #AdoptDontShop Helping Abused or Abandoned Animals


To end on a brighter note, a bit of doggy fun for dog slaves everywhere.

The Amazing Abilities of Dogs – Take the Quiz here

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Animal cruelty-free testing methods will be tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

“Animal testing is considered unnecessarily cruel by many, especially since new methods are being developed to take its place. The most promising are organ-chips that contain human cells and imitate the complexity of particular organs. Now they are on their way to being commonly used. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office has just entered into an agreement last Tuesday with the company Emulate that creates ‘organs-on-chips’ to develop and test the technology.

“Using these organ-chips could eliminate the need to test drugs or cosmetics on animals. These chips are much more accurate than animal testing, which is good for animals and for us. The chip is the size of an AA battery. It is transparent and made out of flexible polymers. The chip contains little channels filled with tens of thousands of human cells and fluid that imitate human functions and reproduce blood and air flow similarly to in the body. Therefore, chips can recreate breathing motions and muscle contractions.
“‘We are excited to begin this relationship with FDA as a potential first step toward accelerating the adoption of our Human Emulation System for broad application as a new testing platform for a wide range of products that are reviewed and approved by regulatory authorities to protect and improve human health.’– Geraldine A. Hamilton, Ph.D., President and Chief Scientific Officer of Emulate.”

Isn’t this epic? A fantastic breakthrough – not even so much the technology which has been around for a while, but the fact that Emulate has been able to forge this agreement with the FDA.

Though no-one knows exact numbers, it is reckoned that every year more than 100 million animals in the US alone, are subjected to chemical, drug, food, and cosmetics tests, as well as medical training exercises and experiments at universities. And that’s without including mice, rats, birds, and cold-blooded animals, which actually make up more than 99 percent of animals used in experiments, but because they are not covered by even the limited protections of America’s Animal Welfare Act, go uncounted

Cruelty Free International tells us:

  • The USA heads the list of the top 10 animal testing countries in the world, which include Japan, China, Australia, France, Canada, the UK, Germany, Taiwan and Brazil.
  • Animal experiments are sadly not in decline, and in many parts of the world are on the increase  (e.g. China) or remain at the same level as they were in the 1980s or 1990s (e.g. the UK, Europe).
Whatever, one animal being tortured in a lab – and it always is torture – is one too many.

The US Department of Agriculture is responsible for monitoring the application of animal welfare legislation for animals in labs. It’s not exactly renowned for the rigour of its oversight at the best of times. Then two months ago this headline appeared in The Washington Post:

USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.”

So this latest news from Emulate and the FDA is all the more welcome – and surprising, considering the state of play in Washington DC right now.

Where the US leads, others are swift to follow. Let us hope this will indeed be the beginning of the end of animal suffering in laboratories.

Meanwhile, here are 10 animal research petitions you can sign, all on one page: Care2 Animal Research petitions

And urge the European Commission and the European Parliament for a moratorium on animal experimentation here

And read more about the new cooperation between Emulate and the FDA here.

Read more about biomedical research in the US here.

Other sources

Animal Testing 101

Facts and figures on animal testing

USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website

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Freaky Feline Fascination!

Cover pic Twitter pic: guywholoveshiscat🐈 @noxtea0x0

If you love cats, look no further to be amused and amazed.  I invite you to dig out your roll of coloured tape, go mark out a square with it on your floor, and wait for your kitty to stroll by. Does your fur baby do this? It seems most pusses need no purrsuasion.

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Twitter pic:

Uhuh, here comes another!

Twitter pic: Jen @JeniNiquette

This puddled puss almost resisted. But no, it seems for moggies sitting is mandatory.
And another! Purple tape, pink tape, blue tape – whatever.

Twitter pic:

Squares of ribbon, paper, even shoes – the kitties will park in the middle without pro-cat-stination.
What pawsible reason can there be for this strange behaviour?

“We know that cats like safe spaces. It’s possible that the marking on the floor creates some illusion on the floor that doesn’t actually exist,” says certified cat behavior consultant Mikel Delgado. “It might have enough similarity to a low-sided box that a lot of cats are attracted to it for safety.”

Certified cat behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson agrees, pointing out that cats have poor close-up vision, so they may well mistake the tape for a shallow box – and we all know how cats love boxes.

“Their vision is built for distance and speed, watching a mouse run across the field,” she says. “Close up they’re virtually blind 8 to 12 inches off their muzzle.”

Curiosity killed the cat

So the saying goes. And cats are certainly curious. Your puss may just be purrusing a new strange object on your floor.

Cats in circles

Circles, hexagons, heptagons – cats can’t get enough.

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(Photo: SneakyChino/imgur)

But if it’s just curiosity, why the sitting?

Mikel Delgado has the last word: “Maybe just chalk it up to cats being mysterious,” he says.

Now just get out that tape and go!

Source

 How to mess with your cat by drawing a square’  Mary Jo DiLonardo

 

Ollie the Bobcat Breaks Out of Jail

Do you remember Flaviu, the beautiful lynx who within hours of being sent to Dartmoor Zoo broke out of his enclosure and eluded capture for three weeks?

Well, it seems that the USA had its own jailbreaker this week in the form of Ollie, a wild-born female bobcat that the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington DC claims for its own.

The American bobcat is a close relative of the Eurasian lynx – think cousin – and every bit as solitary and elusive. Ollie broke out on Monday (31st Jan) and zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson feared, “it will be very very difficult to find her.”

But on Wednesday fortune smiled on the zoo. Unhappily for the runaway, hunger drove her into a trap baited with treats inside the zoo’s bird house. Looking on the brighter side, Ollie’s capture might well have been a lucky escape for the birds, since bobcats have an acrobatic ability to leap from the ground and catch flying birds in the air.

Zoo vets assure us that she is none the worse for her little adventure, apart from a small cut on her left front paw.

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One thing is sure, if her breakout had been successful this lady would not have gone hungry. Bobcats are remarkably agile and fast and are silent and patient stalkers of rabbits, hares, mice and squirrels – even small deer.

Like most cats, bobcats are beautiful creatures, an attribute that cost them dear in the first half of last century. The wild population was almost wiped out by fur trappers. Now I’m glad to say they are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and are bouncing back.

What can I say about Ollie? I so hoped she would never be caught and locked up again. I hoped that for the rest of her life this lady would run free .

Help captive animals by never visiting zoos and aquariums

For more facts and figures about the beautiful bobcat click here

Sign Born Free Foundation petitions  here

Support the work of the Captive Animals Protection Society here

Source

Ollie the jailbreaking bobcat on the lam from National Zoo – TreeHugger

Ollie the bobcat found safe at National Zoo – Fox

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Kids, Dogs, & Bob Marley

Kids can love dogs more than their siblings, & dogs love Bob Marley, studies show.


If your dog thinks you’re the best, don’t seek a second opinion. So says the magnet on my fridge.
And that affirmation is pretty much what kids are getting from their furry friends, finds a new study coming out of Cambridge University.  It seems kids often feel closer to their pet than to their siblings – especially if that pet is a canine. Not really so surprising is it, when dogs do unconditional love so much better than people.

For kids a pet, especially a dog, is always eager to hang out with you, play with you, always has time for you, is always there to listen to your woes.

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True, confiding in your doggy pal is something of a one-way conversation. He may not get much of what you’re saying and you’re unlikely to get a reply. But isn’t that a good thing? He will know how you feel, and he’ll never laugh at you, never mock, never say, “serves you right”, and most importantly, never tell on you to the grownups. He’ll just gaze at you adoringly, because after all, You Are The Best.

Pets in general improve kids’ quality of life and have “a positive effect on children’s social skills and emotional health.” And “the social support that adolescents receive from pets may well support psychological well-being later in life.”

Furthermore, the study reveals that households with dogs are more peaceable, with “lower overall levels of conflict and greater owner satisfaction compared to other kinds of pets.”

No surprises there.

It really is impossible to exaggerate how good it is for kids to grow up with a pet in the family, especially a pup. Or the joy a mutt brings to its ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, its ‘Mum’ and Dad’.

feel-sorry-for-those-with-no-dog

But if all that good stuff makes you want to rush out and get yourself a pet, press the pause button a minute. And please,

ADOPT, DON’T SHOP.

Just look at these sad statistics:

  • The Daily Mail reported that the number of stray or abandoned dogs in the UK reached 110,000 in 2013, and that 21 are put down every single day.
  • The RSPCA rescued and collected 118,994 animals of all kinds in 2015 in the UK, and were only able to rehome 47,651 of those.
  • The ASPCA tells us that in the USA approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
  • And that each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats)

These are awful, unimaginable figures. All those loving hearts just crying out for a loving home. #AdoptDontShop

On a more cheerful note

In Scotland at least, shelter dogs’ days are about to look up – with music. The Scottish SPCA announced on its website, “In the future, every center will be able to offer our four-footed friends a canine-approved playlist with the view to extending this … to other species in the charity’s care.” The idea is to create a relaxed atmosphere for the ‘guests’ and reduce their stress.

bob-marley-1888509__340The announcement stems from another piece of research, this time from Glasgow University, looking into how playing different kinds of music to shelter dogs affects their stress levels. Would you believe, Bob Marley and John Denver appear to have the edge over Motown in the mutts’ musical preferences.

For the research, “Shelter dogs listened to a wide range of music from Spotify playlists. The genres varied from day to day, with the furry residents listening to classical, reggae, soft rock, pop and Motown in a series of experiments.

While each genre was playing, the researchers measured the dogs’ stress levels by monitoring their heart rate variability and cortisol levels. They also kept track of whether the dogs were lying down or barking while the music was on.

The researchers found that regardless of what type of music was playing, the dogs were generally “less stressed” with music vs. without. They spent significantly more time lying down (versus standing) when any type of music was playing. They also seemed to show a slight preference for reggae and soft rock, with Motown coming in last, but not by much.”

It did appear though that one pooch’s musical meat is another pooch’s poison. Dogs are just like us – for them music is a matter of individual taste. But every dog will have his day because to avoid that oh-no-not-again feeling, the SPCA intend to continue rotating the musical genres each day. Anything that helps these fur babies to relax and so increase their chances of adoption has to be a good thing. Because they have so much to give.

Let’s give the last word on that to the wonderful writer Milan Kundera:

“To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.”

Sources

Children can become closer to pets than to siblings, study finds – ZME Science

Stressed dogs prefer reggae and soft rock – MNN

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