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Archive for September, 2008

In anticipation of J.F. (and my) completion of A Dog At Sea (Book #3 in the series), I pass along this news report from today’s wire (the photo above represents a less gruesome graphic to go with the story).

Man dives in to save dog from shark in Fla. attack

ISLAMORADA, Fla. (AP) — A dog is recovering after a Florida Keys carpenter dove in to save his pet from a shark. Greg LeNoir said he took his 14-pound rat terrier Jake for a daily swim at a marina Friday.

The five-foot shark suddenly surfaced and grabbed nearly the entire dog in its mouth.

LeNoir said he yelled, then balled up his fists and dove headfirst into the water. He hit the shark in the back and the creature finally let go of the dog.

Man and dog made it safely back to shore. The dog suffered bite wounds but was not critically injured.

September 30th, 2008
4:07 pm

Ah, perhaps I should have written a memoir… instead of a literary mystery comedy.  Here is an excerpt from a Newsweek author with the real (human) author of this book.  I would advise a general boycott and beginning with A Dog About Town instead.

Living a Dog’s Life

The (imagined) memoirs of Stanley and Sophie—two border terriers.

Kurt Soller
Newsweek Web Exclusive

Early in her new book, Australian author Kate Jennings describes her new puppy not as a “small brown dog,” but as a “tense bundle of muscle and sinew that stood seventeen inches high.” Not exactly the gushy tone you might read in other dog books, but “Stanley and Sophie” sacrifices sweetness for some harsh realities: losing a husband, living in post-9/11 New York and adopting two dogs in hopes of companionship. Jennings learned to love the pair, so when it came time for her third book, Jennings turned to what she new best—her two border terriers. To be fair, it took some imagination to get into a dog’s mindset: “For one, I don’t do handstands when I pee” she told NEWSWEEK’s Kurt Soller before delving into what makes dog literature an art form; how one should take care of monkeys; and why so many New Yorkers squeeze pets into their miniscule apartments. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK : You’ve previously written novels, so how did you decide to write a memoirno less, one about your dogs?
Kate Jennings: I write to explain things to myself, so I wanted to try to explain to myself why I had come to love these dogs. Given that I grew up as a really pragmatic farm girl with a yard dog, a sheepdog, I was curious why I really fell for these two. And I wanted to write about New York.

September 29th, 2008
7:39 pm

From time to time, perhaps until the end of time considering how much money is involved, Yours Truly will be keeping you informed about the fate of Leona Helmsely’s billions that are destined to go to the dogs and a tidy sum of which for her dog Trouble (both Leona and Trouble are pictured above).

Today, the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin covers the ongoing Dickensian wrangles over the estate and indeed the “rightness” of giving this much money to a dog and to dogs in general (apparently at one point Helmsley’s will had children and dogs in it, but the children got cut out).  I welcome your thoughts on the ringing question of the article: is it right to give dogs this much money?

Below is a sample of the piece and the link is here:

Hoffman’s enthusiasm obscures the fundamental moral question about how Helmsley hoped to dispose of her fortune. The way Leona altered her mission statement places the issue in especially stark terms. Version one proposed helping dogs and ailing poor children; version two—the final version—cut out the children and gave everything to the dogs. Is there any justification for such a calculation? Or does Helmsley’s change, along with the broader vogue for pet bequests, reflect a decadent moment in our history?

“In the nineteenth century, when the robber barons started modern American philanthropy, there were no tax deductions, no incentives from the government to give, just the growing idea that with wealth comes social and moral obligation,” Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation and a veteran of the New York philanthropic scene, said. “They could spend their money any way they wanted, but, once we started giving tax deductions, which amounted to a publicly approved subsidy, you had to prove that the money was going for a philanthropic purpose, but that is so broad that you can give to almost anything.

“When you see a gift like Leona’s, it’s individualism carried to iconography,” Gregorian went on. “The whole idea that individuals can do whatever they want is part of the American psyche. It’s left to individual decision-making. That you can give to this sector of society, which is animals, as opposed to the other sector, which is human beings, tells you something about her and about the times in which we live.”

The specific nature of Leona’s gift appears consistent with the pervasive misanthropy of her life and her will. This was a woman, after all, who at her trial was quoted as saying about a contractor who was owed thirteen thousand dollars for installing a custom-made barbecue pit at the Helmsley estate and wanted to be paid because he had six children, “Why doesn’t he keep his pants on? He wouldn’t have so many problems.” (In his opening statement at the trial, her defense attorney said, “I don’t believe Mrs. Helmsley is charged in the indictment with being a tough bitch.”) In the light of her vast wealth, the bequests to her relatives were grudging, small, and controlling, particularly the insistence that two of Jay Panzirer’s children visit his grave each year. As in life, Leona’s disdain for others contrasted with her nearly fetishistic obsession with her husband. (While Harry was alive, she held an annual ball to celebrate his birthday, known as the “I’m Just Wild About Harry” party.) The transfer of this kind of obsessive affection from Harry to Trouble seems apparent. The twelve-million-dollar trust for the dog is bigger than any other single bequest in the will. On the whole, the will reflects contempt for humanity as much as love of dogs.

Under the law, certainly, it was Helmsley’s right to divvy up her money any way she wanted. And she is not the first wealthy person to use a will to show a preference for dogs over humans. Rumors abound about major bequests to pets, although facts are difficult to pin down. Natalie Schafer, the actress who played Lovey, the millionaire’s wife, on “Gilligan’s Island,” is said to have left her estate for the care of her dog. (“It is still getting residuals,” Rachel Hirschfeld said.) Toby Rimes, a New York dog, is said to have inherited about eighty million dollars, and Kalu, a pet chimpanzee in Australia, may have received a bequest of a hundred and nine million dollars. (A widely reported story that a German dog named Gunther IV inherited more than a hundred million dollars appears to be a hoax.)

Is it right to give so much money to a dog—or to dogs generally?

September 25th, 2008
10:01 pm

Please forgive me for my ignorance, but the following is canine trivia of which I was ignorant before I discovered Wikipedia (the source).  I have other concerns about Lassie, the chief one being that the one of the Lassie lesson’s seems to be that the depth and sophistication of a dog’s consciousness is only valuable in so far as the dog is useful or clever in a human way… but let me leave that for another time.  This material on Lassie’s real gender and lineage is probably more interesting than my dyspeptic speculations:

The first dog to star as Lassie in the 1943 movie Lassie Come Home was “Pal”, originally from Glamis Collies of California. The original owner could not train the dog and hired Studio Dog Training School to do the job. When the owner could not pay the bill, Pal was acquired and trained by brothers Rudd Weatherwax and Frank Weatherwax. Also assisting with training on the MGM studio lot was Frank Freeman (a.k.a. Frank Inn), who later went on to fame as the trainer of Higgins, the dog who played Benji in a series of 1970s films. In 1950, Rudd Weatherwax co-wrote a book, “The story of Lassie, his discovery and training from puppyhood to stardom”, recounting Pal’s rise to an international icon.

Pal was bred with a number of female dogs to ensure the Lassie look could be continued. The Lassie looks of sable coat with a white blaze, large white collar, and four white paws is legally trademarked. The collies are also intentionally bred oversized so that the males selected can work with older child stars.

All collies to play Lassie have been male because male collies retain a thicker summer coat than females which “looks better on television.”

September 24th, 2008
8:46 pm

With the ongoing economic crisis, the situation for many dogs is getting even more difficult.  Below is a press release from the American Humane Association.


DENVER, Sept 23, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — The housing crisis and economic turmoil have taken their toll on an unexpected group: dogs.
Driven largely by the rising tide of home foreclosures, animal shelters across the country are overpopulated with furry friends. While no national statistics exist, shelters across the country say they are receiving dogs everyday from displaced homeowners. With more dogs than adopters, shelters are facing a tragic scenario: euthanizing dogs that would, in the past, be snatched up for adoption.
Solving this huge problem is top of mind as the American Humane Association prepares to celebrate its annual anniversary of Adopt-A-Dog Month(R) this October. Adopt-A-Dog Month is an effort by American Humane to support canine adoption from animal shelters while spreading the word about responsible pet care. American Humane is a 130-year-old organization dedicated to protecting both animals and children. This year’s American Humane Adopt-A-Dog Month is being sponsored by, which offers dog people a place to find the highest-quality dog supplies and credible advice on their dog’s health and wellness.
“Economic times are tight. Now, more than ever, there is a real need and a great reason for people who want a dog, to get it from their local animal shelter or rescue group,” says Marie Belew Wheatley, president and CEO of American Humane. “Shelters are literally packed with obedient, loving, trained dogs right now. By adopting a dog from a shelter this October, or at any time, people can save the lives of these precious animals and give them much-needed, loving homes.”
While American Humane strongly encourages shelter adoptions, potential families should consider the following before visiting the local shelter:
Dogs Require Exercise Just Like Humans
— A survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association shows an increasing number of dog owners are citing activity including “walking, jogging and exercise” as the top benefit of having dogs in their lives. Look for a dog with activity needs that suit your lifestyle.
Dogs Aren’t Wallflowers
— Dogs are social pack animals and need time outside, around other people and dogs. Keep this in mind if you work long hours or travel extensively. However, if you’re looking to make new friends, a dog can be a great connector.
Visit this site to learn more.
Contact: Kelley Weir
September 23rd, 2008
3:11 pm

In the past I have had a nagging sense that I should do more exercise despite loathing it. Now, for better or worse, I have science on my side and shall not push myself.

According to a recent study there may be some genetic origin to exercise-induced canine collapse.  The condition is most commonly found in Labrador retrievers (which the article below reminds us are the “most popular dog breed in the world”).

I myself have never experienced this collapse, but other than the odd pursuit of the murderer (or terrified flight from one) have never done a lick of exercise.  Add to that a Lab’s inclination to arthritis and my love of staying in my cozy corner reading Dante or other literary greats makes me look very sensible indeed.  Exercise I hardly knew thee.

Here is the story and the link:

Lab news: Gene offers clue to canine collapse

20 hours ago

PARIS (AFP) — Genetic scientists said on Sunday they could explain why Labrador retrievers, the most popular dog breed in the world, may be prone to suffering a collapse of their rear legs after having exercise.

The answer lies in a mutation of a gene called dynamin 1, or DNM1, on the dog’s ninth chromosome that controls a key chemical in the nervous system, they said.

The syndrome, called exercise-induced collapse, was first spotted by vets in the 1990s among a group of Labradors who were undergoing training.

Some five to 15 minutes after getting strenuous exercise, some of the dogs would develop a wobbly gait and a high temperature, followed by a near-complete loss of control over their rear limbs.

Most of the affected animals recovered after a rest of 30 minutes, but a few died.

University of Minnesota researchers carried out a gene scan of 96 dogs, 60 of which had the syndrome.

Up to 30 percent of Labrador retrievers carry the mutation, but the problem is concentrated among those dogs who have a double copy of the variant — chromosomes comprise a string of gene pairs — rather than a single copy.

In all, an estimated three to five percent of Labrador retrievers suffer from exercise-induced collapse, the scientists believe.

The team developed a gene test to see whether dogs have the normal or mutated form of DNM1, which could help dog breeders.

DNM1 controls a chemical that facilitates signalling among adjacent cells in the central nervous system.

The flawed version of DNM1 has diminished function and during intense exercise blocks the communication, preventing muscle-controlling nerves from firing, even when they are instructed to by the brain.

The study appears in Nature Genetics, a journal of the British-based Nature Publishing Group.

“This is very exciting because it is the first naturally occurring mutation of this gene identified in any mammal,” said James Mickelson, a professor of veterinary sciences at the university.

“Its discovery could offer insight into normal as well as abnormal neurobiology in both animals and humans.”

September 22nd, 2008
3:48 pm

Humans in Ohio have fun stripping Dachshunds of their dignity by dressing them like hot dogs and then watching them race down city streets. A strange breed indeed.

September 20th, 2008
3:56 pm

What is a dog thinking?  Even as a dog, I am always interested in having my behavior (and that of my kind) explained to me.  Below is an article that enlists “experts” to do this.  My favorite is the coining of the term “scooting” to describe one particular behavior humans find unappealing (hint, it involves the sebaceous glands and has recently been pictured in a television commercial for a carpet cleaner).  Here is the link for the article.

Experts Explain Reasons Behind Pet Behavior

Puzzled about why Fido acts the way he does?  Although some pet behaviors may seem a bit odd, there is usually a sound reason for all of them.

As Cesar Millan, host of the National Geographic Channel’s Dog Whisperer, says “pay attention….you can break the code.”

For example, many pets spontaneously start running through the house as though they are on fire, appearing almost crazy to their unsuspecting owners.

Millan attributes this behavior to simple boredom.

“Satisfied, fulfilled dogs do not do this,” he told Woman’s Day magazine.

“If you’re away most of the day, or don’t play with him enough, his energy has nowhere to go. It just builds up inside him until it explodes. This could be triggered by a scent, the sight of another dog on TV, or just his own frustration.”

Cats can flip out from time to time for precisely the same reason.

“In their natural environment, they would be hunting outdoors,” said Bonnie Beaver, author of Feline Behavior and a professor of small animal sciences at Texas A&M University.

“Today, the biggest thing they do is walk to their bowls to eat, then go back to sleep. All of their energy gets suppressed, and it can come out in a big burst,” she told Woman’s Day.

It’s not difficult to calm them down, she said.   Increasing their activity to tire them out is typically all that’s required. This might mean teasing a cat with a ball on a string or a battery powered toy.  For dogs, throwing a ball or Frisbee or letting him run in the park would likely do the trick.   The bottom line is that all animals, even the most aloof, require some type of stimulation.

Another odd behavior is some of the funny noises your pet may make at times. For instance, your cat may be gazing at a bird outside the window and then suddenly begins making a bizarre noise that sounds something like a strange chirping sound while simultaneous jaw clicks.   Experts call this chattering.

“It’s a high-pitched, fast, stuttering kind of noise,” Beaver explained.

So, what does this mean then? Justine Lee, an emergency veterinary specialist in St. Paul, Minnesota and author of  It’s a Cat’s World…You Just Live in It, says it may simply be your cat signaling a desire for a meal.

“Cats do this when they feel predatory but frustrated, and are unable to reach their prey,” she told Woman’s Day.

And while dogs don’t chatter, they do whine conversationally as a means of communication.

“If they spot a cat, they may whine to express predatory drive; if they see a dog, they might whine because they want to play,” said Lee.

Beaver said that if a dog begins whining with an added “oof” sound while standing at your feet he simply wants a little more attention.

Perhaps the most unusual pet behavior is one that makes many owners cringe in sympathy upon seeing the latest Stanley Steemer commercial in which a dog rubs his bum across his horrified owner’s carpet.  Known as “scooting”, this behavior is sometimes caused by irritation of feces-encrusted hair or gastrointestinal worms.  However, the most common cause is infected or impacted anal glands.

“Dogs have two large sacs inside their rectum that carry their personal scent,” said Beaver.

“These usually empty when they go to the bathroom, but may become overly full of fluid or sebaceous material. They then begin to itch and the dog seeks relief by scooting.”

And it’s not only dogs that “scoot”, cats do it too, and excess weight can make them more likely to do so.

“The heavier the cat, the more trouble she’ll have emptying her sacs,” says Beaver, who recommends taking affected pets to the groomer or vet.

“They need to have their glands expressed,” said Lee, who cautioned owners to be concerned about any chronic scooting with blood.
“It can indicate an abscess, severe inflammation or a rare cancer called anal sac adenocarcinoma,” she said.

But if your pet seems ok, the scooting is likely harmless.  One way to be sure the behavior is benign is if your dog begins scratching the ground with his nails after he “scoots” on it.

“He may simply be spreading his scent on a new environment to make it more familiar to him,” said Millan.

Another behavior, one that often gives pet owners a good laugh, is when a dog chasses his own body parts, circling around in a frenzy trying to grab his tail.  While amusing to watch, it is less humorous when you consider what’s really happening.

“It’s his cheap way of finding a toy,” says Lee.

“It usually means that he’s desperate for some environmental enrichment.”

She recommends the Kong, available at pet retailers such as PetSmart and Petco, and then putting treats or peanut butter in to the toy.  Your dog will then have many happy hours trying to ferret it out. Additionally, games of fetch and daily walks will also mentally stimulate your dog.

Experts caution, however, that if you see your dog biting his tail (or feet), it’s time to take him to the vet as this could signal allergies or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Physical affection is the wrong response here, as it can actually serve to reinforce the behavior, Millan said.

Cats differ from dogs in this behavior in that they tend to chase after their friends’ tails (and human ankles) as well as nipping at their own.

“Our houses are relatively clean these days, so indoor cats don’t use up their allotment of prey-chasing,” said Beaver.

“When anything in the vicinity twitches, it can trigger a cat-and-mouse game.”

In this case, a furry toy that stimulates memories of the hunt will keep your cat happy.

September 19th, 2008
9:44 pm

A city in Israel is going to attempt to use DNA testing to go after those who do not pick up after their dogs.  I do not think this would work in New York (and might not work in Israel unless they make it compulsory).  It would be wonderful if the phantom elephant dumper in our neighborhood were apprehended before anymore traffic impeding stools are left.

Here’s the story from BBC and the link and the video:

Officials in an Israeli city have come up with an innovative way of tracking dog owners who allow their pets to foul the streets - DNA analysis.

Authorities in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv, are setting up a special DNA database of local dogs.

They will use the data to match dogs’ droppings to owners - and punish those who do not clean up after their pets.

While those who keep the streets clear will be rewarded, owners who fail to scoop the poop could face fines.

“My goal is to get the residents involved and tell them that together, we can make our environment clean,” Tika Bar-On, the city’s chief veterinarian, told Reuters news agency.

Owners were reacting positively to the six-month trial programme, she told the agency, because they wanted their streets to be clean.

At the moment providing a DNA sample was up to individual dog owners, but the city was considering making it compulsory, she added.

Failure to clear up dog mess is not confined to Petah Tikva. In the UK, some councils have resorted to using CCTV and undercover patrols to identify offenders in particular trouble spots.

Other have given away free bags to encourage owners to pick up after their dogs.

September 18th, 2008
6:40 pm

This does not surprise me.  I can’t count the number of times I have begun to yawn inexplicably after a heaping plate of spare ribs and then curled up for a nap in my corner –having seen Harry already do the same in his grandfather Oswald’s Laz-E-Boy recliner.

Here is the full story and the link:


Spying someone yawning often makes us yawn.

Now, a new study shows your canine buddy can catch yawns from you, too.

The results suggest domestic dogs have the capacity for a fundamental form of empathy, the researchers say.

The phenomenon, called contagious yawning, has been found only in humans and other primates such as chimpanzees and is thought to relate to our ability to empathize with others.

Past studies, however, involved yawning within one species at a time. For instance, chimps triggered other chimps to yawn, and humans prompted yawns in other humans.

Shaggy line-up

Researcher Ramiro Joly-Mascheroni, a psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London first tested the phenomenon in his dog, a Labrador.

Immediately upon yawning himself, Joly-Mascheroni’s dog immediately yawned. And sure enough, tests on friends’ pups showed similar results.

For the new study, the furry cast included a wide range of dog breeds from a Greyhound to a Staffordshire Bull Terrier to a Dalmatian.

In total 29 dogs went through two testing scenarios, each lasting five minutes.

In one, a human (not the owner) called the dog over. While keeping eye contact with the dog, he or she would act out yawns that included the vocal portions.

In the non-yawning scenario, the human went through similar motions, except he or she didn’t yawn vocally and instead just opened and closed his or her mouth.

During the yawn sessions, 21 dogs (or 72 percent of them) yawned. No dogs yawned during the non-yawning scenario.

That’s compared with 45 percent to 65 percent found from past studies in humans and 33 percent found for chimpanzees (in chimp-to-chimp studies).

In addition to yawning, the dogs showed similar reactions to human yawns.

“In the yawning condition, we found the dogs reacted pretty much in the same way,” Joly-Mascheroni said. “They all acknowledged the yawn in some way either by dropping their ears or turning their heads away.”

Catching the Z’s

The researchers aren’t sure why dogs catch the yawns from us. In fact, scientists don’t yet understand contagious yawning in humans.

“There are theories that seem to think that we used to transfer this information of ‘I am tired’ by yawning when we didn’t have language,” Joly-Mascheroni told LiveScience.

In this same way, humans could be transferring sleep info to dogs.

“It would be interesting to find out what other information we transfer to dogs or to any other animals that we are not aware of,” he added.

In past studies, research team member Atsushi Senji, also of the University of London, has shown a possible link between empathy and contagious yawning in autistic children, the researchers said.

Autism is a developmental disorder in which individuals often show impaired social interaction, problems with communication and a lack of empathy, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

This previous research showed that autistic kids don’t “catch” yawns from others, Senji said.

And so the new results in dogs, published online in August in the journal Biology Letters, could mean man’s best friend has the capacity for a basic level of empathy.

September 17th, 2008
10:06 pm