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Archive for September, 2009

The following article from The Denver Post is illuminating on the plight of dogs and cats during our challenging economic times –the pet food industry is booming.  Many dogs, apparently, are coasting through like Robber Barons in private railway cars through a shanty town (though, Yours Truly, cannot report anything but the occasional deprivations and delights from his own abode).  Here’s the article:

DESPITE rising unemployment, credit card debt and thinning discretionary spending, American pet owners remain loyal customers to an industry that is enjoying consistent growth.

The pet food industry is fuelled by consumers who will not back away from spending on food and necessities for their animals, although they are just as likely to pare down the family holiday.

The strong spending comes amid price increases in nearly every pet food category, the result of rising costs of fuel, ingredients and transportation for manufacturers.

Dogs and cats, though, still feel the pinch in other ways, owners said. Fewer treats, new toys or accessories such as collars and leashes, even fewer trips to the groomer are all part of the cost savings.

”We’ve cut back for us all,” said Kathy Schmidt, of the Denver suburb of Lone Tree, whose miniature schnauzer, Archie, has had to wait longer between clippings.

Though the family has trimmed back, Archie still eats pretty well because ”he needs to eat what he’s accustomed to”, Ms Schmidt said.

That is one reason spending on pets remains robust, with total sales of all pet products topping $US45 billion ($51 billion) this year, a 5 per cent increase, according to the American Pet Products Association. Retail sales of pet food are up 4.5 per cent this year, at about $US18 billion. Pet food sales are projected to top $US21 billion by 2013.

Boutique pet stores are enjoying growth while many of their counterparts catering solely to humans struggle.

”We’ve seen double-digit growth this year. The recession hasn’t really touched us,” said Deb Dempsey, the owner of Mouthfuls in Denver.

Dedication to their pets’ health apparently has much to do with how owners spend. ”We have so many customers who say they’d eat macaroni and cheese before they’d cut back on their dogs,” she said.

The pet food recalls of 2007 did not leave the industry unscathed, but did reinforce owners’ focus on quality, not price. ”I’ll go to McDonald’s and eat lunch from the dollar menu, but a can of food isn’t something I want to skimp on,” Pat Janssen, a money manager, said of his dog. ”But there are fewer toys and chews in the bag these days.”

Prices are stabilising, but consumers should not expect too big a drop any time soon. Much is due to long-term supply contracts producers locked into when prices were already high, analysts say.

”We’re trying to cut back, though we’re not real good at it,” said owner Mark Niederhauser of his two chow-chows and a papillon. ”I just can’t deny the dogs.”

September 29th, 2009
4:41 pm

I came across this a few days ago in the Times.  Well worth a read since it clarifies many things that Yours Truly has noted (and at times depended upon) in himself.  A quote: “To a dog a hammer doesn’t exist. A dog doesn’t act with or on a hammer, and so it has no significance to a dog.”  I for one have a distinct regard for hammers (perhaps because of their lethal potential) –but I’m no doubt the canine exception.

Grrr, Sniff, Arf


What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

By Alexandra Horowitz

353 pp. Scribner. $27

The literature about dogs is not quite the same as the literature about, say, Norwegian rats. Dogs get the literary respect: there are brilliant memoirs about dogs like J. R. Ackerley’s “My Dog Tulip” and Elizabeth von Arnim’s “All the Dogs of My Life”; there’s James Thurber and Virginia Woolf and Jack London; there’s Lassie and Clifford and, of course, Marley. White rats, on the other hand, get most of the scientific attention. Alexandra Horowitz’s “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” attempts to rectify that situation, exploring what science tells us about dogs without relegating our pets, emotionally, to lab rats. As a psychologist with a Ph.D. in cognitive science, as well as an ardent dogophile, Horowitz aims “to take an informed imaginative leap inside of a dog — to see what it is like to be a dog; what the world is like from a dog’s point of view.”

Her work draws on that of an early-20th-­century German biologist, Jakob von Uexküll, who proposed that “anyone who wants to understand the life of an animal must begin by considering what he called their umwelt . . . : their subjective or ‘self-world.’ ” Hard as we may try, a dog’s-eye view is not immediately accessible to us, however, for we reside within our own umwelt, our own self-world bubble, which clouds our vision.

Consider one of Horowitz’s examples: a rose. A human being experiences a rose as a lovely, familiar shape, a bright, beautiful color and a sublime scent. That is the very definition of a rose. But to a dog? Beauty has nothing to do with it; the color is irrelevant, barely visible, the flowery scent ignored. Only when it is adorned with some other important perfume — a recent spray of urine, perhaps — does the rose come alive for a dog. How about a more practical object? Say, a hammer? “To a dog,” Horowitz points out, “a hammer doesn’t exist. A dog doesn’t act with or on a hammer, and so it has no significance to a dog. At least, not unless it overlaps with some other, meaningful object: it is wielded by a loved person; it is urinated on by the cute dog down the street; its dense wooden handle can be chewed like a stick.” Dogs, it seems, are Aristotelians, but with their own doggy teleology. Their goals are not only radically different from ours; they are often invisible to us. To get a better view, Horowitz proposes that we humans get down intellectually on all fours and start sniffing.

Dogs, as anyone who has ever met one knows, sniff a lot. They are, says Horo­witz, “creatures of the nose.” To help us grasp the magnitude of the difference between the human and the canine olfactory umwelts, she details not only the physical makeup of a dog nose (a beagle nose has 300 million receptor sites, for example, compared with a human being’s six million), but also the mechanics of the canine snout. People have to exhale before we can inhale new air. Dogs do not. They breath in, then their nostrils quiver and pull the air deeper into the nose as well as out through side slits. Specialized photography reveals that the breeze generated by dog exhalation helps to pull more new scent in. In this way, dogs not only hold more scent in at once than we can, but also continuously refresh what they smell, without interruption, the way humans can keep “shifting their gaze to get another look.”

Dogs do not just detect odors better than we can. This sniffing “gaze” also gives them a very different experience of the world than our visual one gives us. One of Horowitz’s most startling insights, for me, was how even a dog’s sense of time differs from ours. For dogs, “smell tells time,” she writes. “Perspective, scale and distance are, after a fashion, in olfaction — but olfaction is fleeting. . . . Odors are less strong over time, so strength indicates newness; weakness, age. The future is smelled on the breeze that brings air from the place you’re headed.” While we mainly look at the present, the dog’s “olfactory window” onto the present is wider than our visual window, “including not just the scene currently happening, but also a snatch of the just-happened and the up-ahead. The present has a shadow of the past and a ring of the future about it.” Now that’s umwelt.

A dog’s vision affects its sense of time, too. Dogs have a higher “flicker fusion” rate than we do, which is the rate at which retinal cells can process incoming light, or “the number of snapshots of the world that the eye takes in every second.” This is one of the reasons dogs respond so well to subtle human facial reactions: “They pay attention to the slivers of time between our blinks.”) It also helps explain those ­eerily accurate balletic leaps after tennis balls and Frisbees, but Horowitz lets us see the implications beyond our human-centric fascination with our pets. This is more than a game of fetch; it is a profound, existential realization: “One could say that dogs see the world faster than we do, but what they really do is see just a bit more world in every second.”  ARTICLE CONTINUED HERE

September 18th, 2009
11:59 pm


DNA might finally be able to tell us who we are.  Here is the article from The Wall Street Journal.  Parrot from Brooklyn, pictured above, thinks he might be an “Italian greyhound terrier, Boston terrier, bichon frise, golden retriever, mastiff, West Highland white terrier, Staffordshire terrier and/or bull terrier.”  Confusing, but the truth is usually a damp bog of ambiguities.

Advances in DNA testing have changed the way we pursue criminals, verify paternity and date medieval manuscripts. Now it’s being used to answer one of the greatest riddles mankind has ever faced: What kind of dog is that?

A new pack of genetics companies say they can tell mutt owners which breeds their dogs come from, for a fee of $60 to $125. The results, say the companies, can satisfy simple curiosity, provide clues to a dog’s behavioral quirks, and even help identify breed-specific health problems.

But can a few strands of DNA really hold the answer to your dog’s inner being?

To find out, we subjected our lovable, squeezable and all too agreeable mutt named Parrot to DNA tests offered by four companies. He happily sat still while we swabbed the inside of his cheek, and he didn’t bristle when we took him for a blood draw at the veterinarian for one of the tests. In the end, he learned nothing (except maybe that swabs equal treats), but we learned that the business of dog DNA isn’t as simple as it appears starting with the fact that all four labs came back with different results.  READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE.

September 16th, 2009
11:11 pm