A Troubling Dilemma – Should We Kill to Save?

“The most melodious wild music I have ever heard”

These were the words naturalist Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, his response to the exuberant rhapsody of birdsong filling the air as Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour dropped anchor in the paradise that was Discovery Bay in 1770.
If Banks and Cook were to make that same landing in 2017, they would hear – silence. Little did either realise that their own expedition, the first to map the coastline of New Zealand and study its wildlife, bears in large part the blame for today’s uncanny hush. For the Endeavour was carrying more than its crew. It also brought stowaways, in the shape of Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat. And it’s rats that have brought that music to a stop.

New Zealand’s native birds were/are endemic, ie. unique to that country, occurring nowhere else in the world. And, having no natural ground predators and therefore no need to take to the sky, they’d evolved over millennia flightless. So, easy pickings for the voracious invaders inadvertently brought to their shores.

Since that time, more than 70 species of birds native to NZ have been lost to the world, with more likely headed in the same direction, including the world’s heaviest parrot, the kakapo, and possibly the cheekiest, the alpine kea.

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The endangered kea

A shocking 26 million of the nation’s birds are killed by invasive predators every year.

Of course this is not a problem exclusive to New Zealand. The pattern is repeated all over. On Hawaii for example, the most isolated land mass in the world, native plants and animals evolved, as in New Zealand, without aggressively competitive or predatory species. The native species, not having had to compete themselves, are “more gentle than others, leaving them vulnerable to the ‘meaner’ species … being introduced to the islands.”

This is one of the ‘meanies’, who indiscriminately demolishes Hawaiian birds, insects, plants and flowers. He doesn’t belong there, but he sure has made himself at home.

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The veiled chameleon, invader in Hawaii, all the way from Yemen

Islands that once were regular Gardens of Eden where all lived in harmony, are today red in tooth and claw. And most often, the teeth and claws belong to Rattus norvegicus, or Rattus rattus, the black rat. Rats have found their way, courtesy of humans, on to more than 90% of the world’s archipelagoes, and embody everything that characterises an invasive species:

  • Rapid reproduction
  • Fast growth
  • High dispersal ability
  • Ability to live off a wide range of foods
  • Ability to adapt to different environments
  • Association with humans

Mammals like the rat are not native to oceanic islands, which are predominantly the domain of birds. Two-thirds of extinctions over the last 500 years have occurred on islands, largely at the paws of invasive mammals. Islands make up only 5.5% of the Earth’s land mass, but are home to 15% of all land species. They are hotspots of biodiversity. And that makes islands in particular, critically important for conservation.

So, how to stem the alarming losses in biodiversity?

Money for conservation is always at a premium. So much to be done, and never enough funding to do it. $21.5 billion is being spent annually, yet in places it’s hard to see much impact on biodiversity. It’s vital to direct funds to projects that will yield good results. And conservationists have found, especially on islands, the only effective method of stemming biodiversity loss is eradication of the invasive species that are pushing the natives to extinction. When the invaders are removed, the beneficial effect on native species is dramatic.

Eradication methods

Different lands, different species demand different eradication methods. What works in one locale, fails in another. Our own ‘meanie’ here on the island of Britain is the American mink brought across the Atlantic to be farmed for its fur. Now escaped into the wild, these invaders have eaten their way through the water vole population, pushing the little rodents to the cliff edge of extinction. Mink are being trapped with the help of volunteers, and then shot in the head.

“It’s not something I get any satisfaction out of, but I am trained to do this, and we dispatch them as quickly and humanely as possible to cause minimal distress to the animal,” says river biologist Jamie Urquhart.

( I once saw a mink in the river at a National Trust property. I began an email to notify the Trust, but then couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for the animal’s death, and deleted the email.)

In the Galapagos Islands, feral goats spread like wildfire, munching their way through forests and native fauna until nothing was left but bare grass. Native birds, invertebrates and the famous Galapagos tortoise were all endangered. Rangers hunted the goats down on land and by air, and shot them, 55,000 of them just on one island. The now goat-less islands reforested and recovered with gratifying rapidity.

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Galapagos lava heron

In the Seychelles, where the invading Indian red-whiskered bulbul was ousting its native cousin, nets were used, and “rifles to get the last remaining few.”

In New Zealand, lethal traps and poisoned bait have been ‘successful’ on small islands, but as they are labour-intensive (requiring constant checking and resetting) they’re not practical over larger areas. Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) is developing more effective ‘tools’, from “more attractive lures to electronically monitored traps.” The traps being used kill the rats instantly.  “You don’t get those kills where it just breaks the back; we don’t want prolonged suffering,” says Aitken, one of the government-employed eradicators.

This is ZIP’s latest prototype: “Nailed to the tree a few feet off the ground is a shiny orange-and-black contraption called the GoodNature A24. Powered by a gas-fired piston, it delivers a quick, fatal blow to an animal’s head as it tries to snatch the bait inside. The device can kill 24 rats or stoats with a single canister of gas, requiring fewer of these strenuous, time-consuming trap line tromps, thereby saving on labor costs.” 

The ethics

Whatever method is used, eradication means no more nor less than the killing of every possible individual animal of the unwanted species in that territory. ” Most critics point to the ethics of the matter. Killing animals whether they are invasive or not is wrong, they argue, and uncompassionate. Killing wildlife for conservation seems counterintuitive. Isn’t conservation supposed to be about conserving wildlife?”

Some critics even see eradication as another manifestation of racism – prejudice against the non-native. “Certainly the Nazi drive to eliminate non-indigenous plants was related to the campaign to eliminate non-Aryan people.”

But an argument for eradication is that often, the native wildlife needing protection is found nowhere else on the planet, whereas the invaders such as the rats, are generally very widespread. Reading that sentence back and substituting the word ‘Aryans’ for ‘native wildlife’, and ‘Jews’ for ‘rats’, it does sound horribly like the Nazi justification for the Holocaust, doesn’t it? And labelling a group (Jews or rats) ‘vermin’, makes them so much easier to eliminate – it transforms eradication from a murderous crime into a public good.

Even if we accept that the uniqueness-of-the-endangered-native-wildlife argument makes sense at species level, does it justify killing thousands of sentient animals who are just getting on with their lives best they can?

Suppose eradication is a necessity, aren’t there non-lethal methods that could be used?

Yes, there are. Some are not always a practical option, some are just bizarre, and some pose unknown risks.

The impractical

The obvious solution would be to trap the invaders and transport them back to where they came from. And on occasions this has been done. But imagine the politics, the logistics, and of course the cost involved of say, catching, keeping alive and shipping every veiled chameleon from Hawaii back to Yemen. And where on earth would you take the tens of thousands of feral goats from the Galapagos? Multiply that by thousands of conservation projects and it’s clear that can rarely be an answer.

The bizarre

Researchers in Australia have a novel approach. Remember the native species are invariably ‘gentler’ than the invading ‘meanies’ whose successful proliferation at the expense of the natives is down to their adaptability and aggressive competitiveness? Since there is little to no hope of ridding the whole of Australia of its mercilessly predatory feral cats, researchers there are trying to “force natural selection’s hand”.

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They’ve placed hundreds of small endangered endemic marsupials in a pen with a couple of the cats. The hope is that the smartest marsupials will learn to survive, and pass on their cleverness genes to their offspring. But such human-contrived evolution of the marsupial could take 100 years or more. And if it seems like a big gamble, that’s because it is. No need for me to list possible objections, practical and ethical. They are all too obvious.

The risky

Genetic technology already available to us would be by far the most effective nonlethal tool for dealing with invasive species. Scientists have now found a way to not only alter the genes of a species – in this case a gene for producing male offspring only – but make that alteration inheritable. It’s called a self-propagating gene drive system [which] promotes the inheritance of a particular genetic variant to increase its frequency in a population.”  This would obviously require “fewer invasive organisms to be released in order to spread infertility and ultimately eliminate the pest population.” The animal basically would be programmed to (re)produce its own extinction.

New Zealand is one country taking a good hard look at this technology as a much easier, and definitely more humane way to rid the land of the invasive rats, mice, stoats and possums that are so destructive of its native wildlife. There is no question the gene technology would work. The invaders would die out, allowing the native species to flourish once more.

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One of the invaders, an Australian possum

But, and it’s a big but, what it would also do, is create in effect a new species still retaining all the characteristics that made it such a successful invader in the first place. In other words, it would be impossible to contain these modified animals in the target location. Invasion is what they do best – they would spread far and wide with unknowable, and most likely catastrophic results.

The self-propagating gene drive is the perfect example of technology moving ahead at such a pace, it is way in advance of any ethical agreements surrounding its use. The international community needs to catch up fast, formulate, and sign up to a binding accord. New Zealand is by no mean the only country looking at the self-propagating gene drive as a conservation tool. And if something can be done, you can guarantee it will sooner or later.

The dilemma

To kill to save, or not?

“Not doing anything to prevent these extinctions is, in and of itself, an action—which is not compassionate to native species. We can sit there and watch animals go extinct, or we can do something about it,” says conservation biologist Holly Jones. “Killing things sucks. But when you realize the gravity of not acting, which in many cases equates to watching extinction happen in front of your eyes, I think there is no other choice,” 

“We do have the ability to fix our damages. Which is why many conservationists believe we have an obligation to right the wrong when it comes to invasives since humans are, more often than not, solely responsible for introducing species into places they shouldn’t be.” Peter Haverson, another conservation biologist. “No other species has this capability, unfortunately.”

We’ve carried invasive species to every corner of the world, either deliberately – sheep,  goats, dogs, cats and so on, then escaped and gone feral – or inadvertently, as with the rats. The cats, who are particularly pernicious predators of endangered wildlife, fall into both categories.

As we have caused the problem, should we be taking action to fix it? We can refrain from eradicating invasive species. That means standing by, letting individual endangered animals be killed by invaders, and allowing entire species to go extinct. Or, we can opt to kill the invaders – bearing in mind that rats, stoats and possums are people too. In conservation there is no fence to sit on. By not doing one, we are of necessity doing the other.

This is a cowardly cop out I know, but I’m so glad it’s not me having to make the decisions. What is your take on this most troubling of questions?

The most invasive species of all

We don’t just transport invaders around the globe. We ourselves are by far the worst invaders of the lot:

“From Africa, we’ve spread out onto every continent on Earth settling into jungles, plains, forests, deserts, mountains and more. All environments we touch experience extinctions and suffer from varying degrees of degradation. Many scientists even believe we are currently causing a mass extinction event of global wildlife, like the one that ultimately claimed the dinosaurs.”

“Believe”? The 6th mass extinction is no more a matter of belief than climate change. Strangely, I don’t hear anyone suggesting as a solution to the catastrophic loss of the planet’s precious biodiversity, the eradication of this, the most deadly of invasive species, Homo sapiens. Why is that?

RDLS_logo-copy

 

Update 6th December 2017

Genetic tool that can doom a species under UN review

Gene experts set to tackle pest control

Sources

Eradication nation

Hawaii’s Invasive Species Might Be Cute, But They’re A Huge Island Threat

Invasive Species – Wiki

Alien invaders: American mink removed from Scotland

Confronting introduced species: a form of xenophobia?

When killing off a species is the best solution

Gene-drive technologies for ecosystem conservation: use with care

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Creative Crashpads for Funky Felines

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this”

Calling all cat-worshippers! I have to ask: are you 100% satisfied in your own mind that the Pets-At-Home igloo bed you selected for your feline is up to scratch? Or did you go straight for the cat’s whiskers and lavish £50 on the deluxe Mr Snugs KatDen, only to find kitty curled up in the closet on your sweaters?

For a crashpad truly befitting your furry god or goddess, maybe, just maybe, you should have called upon the services of an ar-cat-ect. Yes, really. I’m serious. There is a wonderful organisation called Architects for Animals

logo-for-websitewhich every October invites architects and designers to make, submit for display, and donate their creative catnap-eries at their annual “Giving Shelter” exhibition and auction. All proceeds go to animals in need. This year, Architects for Animals’ 10th, the recipient is FixNation, an L.A. charity that spays/neuters stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Isn’t that purrfect?

Take your pick from these fabulous puss palaces.

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HKS’s “CAnT WE ALL GET ALONG,” a fish-shaped shelter with birdhouses above
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Perkins+Will’s “UnFURled,” a whimsical spiral shelter that’s actually assembled from a kit of interchangeable parts
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Standard Architecture | Design’s “Catosphere,” a concrete and reclaimed teak pod
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Abramson Teiger Architects’ “White Jack”

There’s no doubting who’s the star of that show!

Now, a quick flip of the coin, from the money-givers to the money-makers  – from the compassionate donors to the fat cats of re-tail.

(Apologies for all the corny cat puns. But you’d better brace yourself for more to come – I can’t resist😄)

A certain business better known for its vegan meatballs and Scandi style has also been getting creative for cats. Available for purr-chase is the ‘Lurvig cat cube’, designed to mix and match with the human furnishings. Infinitely adaptable to cat-er for every possible puss preference.

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Even so, I can imagine Felis Catus looking on with cool disdain as we wrestle with the flatpack – a disdain that despite our best efforts, may well extend to the finally completed cat-ready creation.

Oh well, it can always double up as a bedside cabinet.

So that takes care of the cat crashpads. Now how about the fur-niture?

“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort”

Recent pet industry consumer research shows –

  • 80% of millennial companion-animal ‘parents’ regard their pets as family members. (What is wrong with the other 20%, one has to ask)
  • Americans spend more on cat food in a year than on baby food
  • And, music to the industry’s ears, 76% of millennial pet parents are willing to splurge on cool stuff for their pet before buying something for themselves.

Discovering just how much millennials are in thrall to their felines, the pet industry is naturally keen to create new product opportunities for the splurging. Would you splash out on these miniature marvels from Japan for your fur baby?

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This sofa, made by Okawa Kagu is furniture intended to satisfy a ‘selfish cat’ that doesn’t do sharing  (Photo: Okawa Kagu)

This is fur-niture for felines of the highest craftsmanship. Nothing but the best.

So, now that’s all the kitty comforts sewn up, what does Santa Claws plan on bringing this Christmas?

“Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want”

  • I’m sorry, but I have it on the best authority, the standard supermarket pet stocking is not going to cut it this year. Don’t you know, a cat needs some a-mews-ment? A chance to show off her cat-leticism? So how about one of these?

cat-bridge-furniture

Catastrophic Creations make these ‘Indiana Jones Bridges’ to order. If you are cat-crazy enough to measure up your home for one, expect to get ambushed from on high, that’s all I can say.

Or, maybe you’re this crazy…

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Or, for the irredeemably bonkers, this…
new-cat-furniture-releases

Now that’s one website worth looking at!

From the pampered puss who has everything, back where we started – to the cat who has nothing. We too can help give a cat a home.

If you’d like to help feral cats near you, click here for simple instructions, using materials that would probably otherwise be thrown away, to make a cosy shelter. It may not be as zany or stylish as the ones above, but it will keep them snug from the winter cold and wet.

And/or sponsor a cat pod with the RSPCA. The charity took in 6,390 cats to its shelters last year. “With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats – more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined – [the cats] need our support more than ever.” 

And if you are considering bringing a new companion animal into the family, don’t forget #AdoptDontShop!

For more stylish designs from Architects for Animals, take a look here


Sources

L.A. Architects & designers build imaginative outdoor cat dwellings for charity

Home Furnishings Industry Creates Comfy Digs for Man’s Best Friends

Behold! Purr-fect furniture for cats

Quotes: Terry Pratchett, Joseph Wood Krutch, James Herriot – in that order

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You Love Animals Right? Your Brain IS Different from Those Who Don’t

Is the human race divided into two tribes, those who love animals and those who don’t? Yes, it seems so. But what makes us this way? If only we could open a window into the human brain and see what is going on in there, what it is that makes one ‘tribe’ so different from the other.

Oh, hang on – we can. Exactly what was revealed when neuroscientist Massimo Filippi and his team did just that, opened that window, we will come to very shortly.

We’ve already seen in his fascinating book The Animals Among Us, John Bradshaw delving deep into the past to unravel the threads of our relationship with domesticated animals. He uncovers an evolutionary forking of the path – one group of humanity opting to settle, begin domesticating and living with animals, while the other remained hunting, marauding nomads.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the domesticated cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time the humans who lived with animals passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants.

Meanwhile, the nomads found themselves an easy living without the trouble of making animals a part of their daily lives, by raiding the others’ settlements and stealing theirs. Animal-lover of animal-unlover, whichever group we fall into, that is very likely how we came to be. With apologies to John Bradshaw for squeezing what takes a book to explain into an ever-so-slightly oversimplified couple of paragraphs!

Now back to Massimo & co and their window into the brain

Their project set out to measure and compare the levels of empathy towards other humans and towards nonhuman animals in 3 different groups: omnivores, ethical vegetarians, and ethical vegans. By ethical we mean those who are veg*n for the animals rather than say, simply for their own health.

All the participants were first given an ‘Empathy Quotient’ survey to complete. Social cognitive neuroscientist Claus Lamm’s definition of empathy might be useful at this point:

“When we are confronted with another person [human or nonhuman] – say, someone in pain – our brains respond not just by observing, but by copying the experience. Empathy results in emotion sharing. I don’t just know what you are feeling, I create an emotion in myself.

Next, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) they showed the different groups images of human suffering and animal suffering, and monitored their brain activity to establish exactly what was happening inside these people’s heads.

The results of the fMRI:

  • The veggies and vegans showed more activity in empathy-related areas of the brain to images of both human and nonhuman suffering than the omnis
  • The veggies and vegans responded more strongly to the animal suffering than the human suffering
  • The vegans responded more strongly than the veggies to animal suffering
  • The veggies reacted more strongly than the vegans to human suffering
  • The omnis reacted more to the human suffering than the animal suffering
  • Both vegans and veggies showed reduced activity in the amygdala, which means that they were trying hard to control their emotions. Especially the vegans

All of which corresponded with the results from that preliminary EQ survey.

The study does leave some questions unanswered. For example, wouldn’t it be important to know which nonhuman animals appeared in the images? Were they dogs, cats, rats or hens? If they weren’t companion animals, might not cognitive dissonance have come into play for the omnis? After all, veg*ns don’t hold exclusive rights on loving animals, do they?


Cognitive dissonance – a brief excursion into the secret that enables our crazy species to both love animals and eat them. This is how it works:

In our Western culture we are socially conditioned to see animals as falling into specific groups defined entirely by how we humans relate to them, and how useful they are to us. We absorb this way of thinking completely unconsciously from our mother’s knee, and everything we encounter throughout our childhood, books, movies, games, toys, advertising, reinforces the construct.

So we have:

Wild Animals with whom we have little contact

Utility Animals who ‘work’ for us – horses, donkeys, farm and police dogs and so on

Food Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, hens

Animals for entertainment – racehorses, greyhounds, circus animals, animals in zoos and aquaria

Animals for ‘education’ – animals in labs, zoos and aquaria, in schools and universities

Companion Animals – pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies etc

And let us not forget

Vermin – this category can be made to emcompass any species from buzzards to badgers that humans discover reasons for finding ‘a nuisance’

What makes veg*ns different, is that they have broken down and demolished this construct. To them it matters not whether it is a woodlouse or a wolf, a chicken or a cheetah. A life is a life, and each and every one matters and has a right to live free from harm and exploitation. But might it not make a difference which animals’ pics were shown to the omnivorous participants? As they remain captive to that social conditioning which compels them to allot a category to different animals, some animals might matter to them more than others.


That aside, it’s no surprise that omnis responded more to human suffering than animal, or that for the veg*ns it was the reverse. The interesting finding was that the veg*ns were more responsive to suffering overall than the omnis. Yet most veg*ns including me, started life omnivorous.

So do the study’s results mean we were born with an innate empathy that turned us into vegans, or did becoming vegan make us more empathetic? Who knows.

If we fail to imagine what animals might be feeling, ” we could do a great deal of harm, and put suffering in the world that doesn’t need to be there”

Philosopher Janet Stemwedel


One thing the findings do, is cast doubt on how effective it is for animal advocates to try ‘converting’ omnivores by showing them images of the misery endured by so many animals at human hands. The response might fall disappointingly short of a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. The research shows that for some, seeing is not necessarily feeling.

But it isn’t only written in the genes. The brain has plasticity – it is capable of being moulded. So let’s take the hopeful view and assume that becoming vegan helped make us more empathetic. And that omnivores may have more of those nomadic raiders’ genes with an animal-disconnect. But they are also profoundly conditioned, as we all are or have been, in their attitudes to nonhuman animals by the prevailing norms of our society.

Do you love animals but still eat them? Here is one eloquent, passionate man who may be able to change your mind. Philip Wollen, tearing down those malignant social norms – so inhumane towards nonhuman animals, and indeed, so disastrously damaging for humankind and the planet itself.

Help to go vegan here

 

Sources

Veg*n Brains & Animal Suffering

Empathy for Animals is all about us

The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood

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Animal Rights Stickers – Yay!

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a brand new emoji app for animal champions everywhere. Senior Advocacy Strategist Michelle Feinberg invites us to download the peta2 sticker app available now from both the App Store and the iMessage-specific App Store. All the stickers are 100% vegan and cruelty-free!

To give you a flavour –

 

Let’s get downloading. This app is going to clock up some serious mileage! Fun with an important – the most important – message…

ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS

TO EAT, WEAR, EXPERIMENT ON, USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, OR ABUSE IN ANY OTHER WAY


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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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