Dogs love us, says science – so we have to love them back!

This article by Susan McDonald is reproduced from theguardian.com, Monday 17 March 2014 15.05 AEST

New research on canine sentience will come as no surprise to dog lovers, but it may be a game-changer in the quest for dogs’ rights.

Susan McDonald's Jack Russell

Susan McDonald’s Jack Russell

The park can be a dangerous place, and I’m not talking about vicious dogs. It’s the two-legged beasts you have to watch out for.

I was there the other day with my Jack Russell, who spotted a jogger and took off behind him, yapping. A soothing voice would have calmed him but instead came a tirade of abuse (barking, you could say) directed first at the dog, then at me. The dog responded in kind and the jogger promptly kicked him. Then he stormed in my direction. I said, “Are you going to kick me?”, which brought a pause to his fury, long enough for the dog and me to run for the car.

It was all so unnecessary, so disproportionate. My little dog barks too much for his own good, but he will respond gently if gentleness is offered. As will most dogs, given half a chance.

You don’t have to take my word for it: science says so, too. A recent series of studies in the US suggest that dogs recognise kindness and give trust in return; that they experience emotions like love and attachment, like humans.

Unlike previous research into canine sentience, this time researchers were able to use an MRI. No mean feat when you remember that the subject must be awake; you can’t map brain activity in an anesthetised dog. Uncomfortable as the scan is, even for humans, unrestrained dogs were trained to sit rock-still – and even more remarkably, this was achieved using only positive training methods based on trust. The dogs were treated as human children would be: their owners had to sign a consent form to enable them to participate, and the dogs were allowed to leave if they wanted.

As if any further evidence was needed of the dogs’ sentience, the scan enabled the researchers to map activity in the caudate nucleus – that area of the brain where emotions can be measured in dogs as in humans. They found that activity increased in response to hand signals indicating food, smells of familiar dogs and people, and the return of a familiar human. A subsequent experiment showed activity increased when dogs heard the voice of someone familiar (and no, not just the person who fed them).

The inescapable conclusion, wrote one of the researchers, Gregory Burns, in an op-ed in the New York Times, was that “dogs are people, too”.

This will come as no surprise to dog lovers. We’ve always felt that, at some level, our dogs love us back. But it is evidence “we can no longer hide from”, wrote Burns. “Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives) seem to have emotions just like us.”

I wonder what the jogger would think. His mind seemed made up about dogs and about his right to treat them how he wished. He’s not the only one. Even in a supposedly dog-loving country like Australia, in which 40% of households have a dog, many people treat them badly and think nothing of it – in research laboratories, in commercial breeding operations known as puppy farms, at the dog racing track. Otherwise law-abiding people keep dogs chained, leave them alone in apartments, or abandon them when they are deemed too difficult. Then they’re put down at the pound because people prefer to get a dog from a puppy farm by way of a pet shop.

Of course, dog lovers have minor victories. Look at the good news story of Sochi’s strays. Sentenced by the city to be culled in the leadup to the winter Olympics, their plight caused outrage on social media and many were rescued. Some were adopted, others housed in a newly built shelter. It was a kind response to what is a worldwide epidemic, estimates putting the global number of stray dogs at about 300 million.

Social media can’t solve a problem that big; they can’t all be adopted. There needs to be a sea change in the way we think about dogs. Sporadic waves of sentiment aren’t enough.

That’s why the latest research is so important. If Canis lupus familiaris can be shown to have emotions, and a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child, there is a moral imperative to reassess how they are treated under law.

“We must reconsider their treatment as property,” says Burns.

Dogs are not property. They are loyal, loving companions who reward kindness and consistency with devoted service. WH Auden was right: “In dark hours their silence may be of more help than many two-legged comforters.” That gives them a special place in our lives and the right not to be abandoned, enslaved, demonised, turned into vicious guards or even treated as fashion accessories. (Auden noted the debasement of dogs by “those who crave a querulous permanent baby or a little detachable penis.”)

They deserve respect. And their rights are not lesser rights, separate from human rights; giving dogs the protection they deserve adds to our humanity. As Ghandi said, it’s an indicator of a nation’s moral progress.

Burns suggests a legal guardianship of dogs to replace ownership. Such a reclassification would provide dogs with a much greater right to protection and could become the legal underpinning of stricter regulation over their use in research, racing and breeding; harsher penalties for abuse; and more protection for strays.

Several US cities, including Los Angeles, have already enacted laws that require pet shops to source dogs from shelters rather than puppy farms. That would be a good place for Australia to start.

And more such reform must follow. If dogs are people, they must have rights too.

With thanks to Susan McDonald      With thanks to Susan McDonald

      Photographs: Susan McDonald for the Guardian

      http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/17/dogs-

      rights-canine-sentience-research

 

Introducing Barnaby Bear!

It’s time I introduced Barney. Standard Poodle. Two years old. Dumped by his former foster family for reasons that will become obvious later. Full name Barnaby Bear because of cuddleability. No relation to Barnaby Joyce though he may be a distant relative of Inspector Barnaby of Midsomer Murders, he of the second series who, if you’re a woman of a certain age, is a whole lot cuter than the first.

Barnaby Bear

Barnaby Bear

Barney Berber Carpet

Aka Barney

Could Barney share the Pooh gene pool?  Is he a close relative of an Alpaca? Could he be crossed with a Berber carpet? All of the above are possible.

Barney came to us in the way of most rescue dogs. We’d just missed out on adopting two old poodles through Poodle Rescue when, with no serious intent, I was drooling through breeders on the net, amusing myself with poodle hair colours and ridiculous coiffures, when I noticed a local breeder looking for foster families. We had definitely decided to rescue, but perhaps fostering was as good as rescuing?

Within a week, Barnaby was at our door. He was anorexic, had been shaved back to the skin and, in his twenty-two months, had never been separated from his dog mother, both being fostered by a family who’d unceremoniously dumped them back on the breeder.  The breeder said she’d breed from him over a couple of years, and then he was ours. I said yes. My husband says I’m impetuous.

Barney had never seen the sea; he drank a lot of it and ended up with a debilitating dose of diarrhea, not good when we were trying to fatten him up. It soon became obvious that he had a fixation on small yappy dogs, chasing them from one end of the park or beach to the other while I watched helplessly, desperately.

Off to puppy school where I met a man who told me that Standard Poodles understand 300 words compared with 80 words for normal dogs. ‘Never have an intelligent dog,’ he advised, ‘or a wife who’s more intelligent than you.’

He had a Beagle. I asked him if the same intelligence advice applied to husbands. He narrowed his eyes and walked off.

Just before Christmas, the breeder said Barney had faded too much and she’d decided not to breed from him! Faded, I wondered, from what? And how could she tell from 50k away? But if we had him de-sexed, she said we could have him as a Christmas present. Beware false gods bearing gifts and other similar homilies.

Besides his small dog obsession, Barney soon developed a fox fixation, having discovered the scent of them in the bush behind our beach, which results in long periods of absence while I bleat and threaten ineffectually from the other side of the fence. But he has learned to love water and he swims far out to sea, paddling along beside us like a wet sweater with legs, determined to keep his new family safe from drowning.

Next week I have an appointment with a Dog Whisperer to deal with the foxes and yappy dogs. Truly. I’m embarrassed to admit it. City dogs. Poodles. Yes, all of that.

I was determined not to love Barney in the way I’d loved our former poodle but I fear it’s happening again. What risks we take when we love!

Wisdom Of The Elders by Richard Glover

letch

For 13 years, the garden hose has been my dog’s favourite thing. There’s a tiny squeak when I turn on the tap, a sound he can hear through multiple closed doors. He could hear it from suburbs away. His ears swivel and he comes running, insisting that intermediate doors be opened. He stands on his hind legs so he can see out the back window. “Oh, the hose,” he pants. “The hose.”

When the back door is opened, he shoots into the yard and stands in front of me as I water, sometimes barking, sometimes just looking hopeful, until I spray him with water. Then he runs around in circles, leaping and, it seems to me, laughing, until I do it again.

Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/wisdom-of-the-elders-a-dogs-lead-20140213-32j01.html#ixzz2tY5nDyBd

Bad Breath Jonty!

Here’s beautiful Jonty who visits a local school with me to listen to children read as part of the Story Dogs Literacy Program. With dogs you expect a bit of meaty breath but on our first visit to the school, I realised Jonty had a serious breath problem. Like a BIG problem!

Bad Breath Jonty

Bad Breath Jonty

Why hadn’t I noticed before? Well, Jonty belongs to a neighbour, and while our new dog is still too young and scatty to be a Story Dog, the neighbour kindly loans me Jonty to use instead.

Bad breath is always a touchy subject, but when it’s someone else’s dog, the problem just got bigger!

Prior to our weekly visit, I have to make sure Jonty’s had a bath and is smelling sweet, that his coat’s been brushed and he’s not dropping hair, that he’s recently had a flea treatment and won’t be sharing his itches! And, because he’s up close and personal with the kids, he definitely can’t have bad breath.

Online, I found Dr Harry had a suggestion or two. Evidently bad breath in dogs can be caused by anything from diabetes to liver and kidney problems and a few other things as well. If you’re really concerned about your dog’s breath, it’s obviously advisable to check out the underlying cause with a vet.

However bad breath is usually caused by dog dental disease and it can be very expensive to treat. With Jonty, a quick look in his mouth showed nice pink gums and strong teeth in need of a good clean. Until his owner was up for that, I followed Dr Harry Cooper’s recommendation to use SUPERCOAT Dental Chews daily. They are specially shaped with a 3-piece twist which is  designed for dog’s teeth and Dr Harry recommends them to help maintain healthy gums, and reduce the build-up of tartar and plaque on our dogs teeth.

I found SUPERCOAT Dental Chews in my local supermarket and before the next Story Dogs visit, I gave Jonty one to try. He chomped it up and noticed later that his breath was much, much better. It made me think of a couple of humans I know who might benefit from a Dental Chew or two!      

We had a family barbecue recently and, of course, related dogs came too. After the meaty treats from the table, I gave then each a Dental Chew. These are the minty-breathed rogues below!

John

John

Suzie

Suzie

Dukes

Dukes

Thank You For Buying Our Books!

Black-Dog-ALT-Large

A year after ‘Old Dogs: Lessons in Loving & Ageing’ went on sale, we’ve been able to donate $1000 to the Black Dog Institute for research into depression and bi-polar disorder.

Why the Black Dog Institute?

If our furry, four-legged friends provide the metaphor commonly used to describe depression, it seemed like a good idea to help the cause.

Black Dog: Noun: Used as a metaphor for melancholy or depression,

Winston Churchill used the term to explain his life-long battle with the illness.

Stephen Fry described his struggles with bi-polar in a poem that begins… The black dog is my constant companion; he is never far from me. Whether he is lurking in the shadows, or walking at my side… The black dog has broken me….

In many families, the black dog is more often an elephant in the room, that great lurking presence that cannot be named. Last year, I wrote about Melbourne man, Mark Pacitti, who tackles the stigma surrounding depression on a very honest blog called Dancing With The Black Dog.

At the recent launch of our second book, ‘Old Dogs on Meditation & Mindfulness’, local Northern Rivers radio identity, Nora Vidler-Blanksby, spoke about her struggles with post-natal depression and how little help there was for it ten, twenty, thirty years ago. I was reminded of my own battle with the illness, and how back in the 1970′s it barely had a name, let alone treatment methods.

It’s through your interest and generosity in buying our books, that photographer, Peter Derrett and I are able to make this donation.

Thank you again for your very generous support!

Pep’s Eulogy

Often the loss of a beloved dog can lodge in our hearts like a rock, making it almost impossible to speak of our pain.

Mandy, of Rocky Springs Rambles, who writes a beautiful blog about living and loving the country life, spent three an a half years grieving for her best mate, Pep. Only recently, has she felt brave enough to write of Pep’s life. She has kindly agreed to sharing it here.

Pep

Pep

“The old dog is asleep by the fire.

The day is done and he can relax. He no longer has to be tougher than the working dogs or to disdainfully ignore the pups. He is inside by the fire, on his sheepskin rug with a belly full of ham bone. The others are outside with their biscuits – where they belong.

Maybe his legs aren’t what they used to be. He runs like he is drunk, back legs not following the front, and he falls over often, has trouble getting into the ute and won’t go with the horses as they muster the cattle. The local vet, whom he hates as he has hated every vet that has crossed his path, has prescribed a little pill with his meal every night. His hearing is failing too, or maybe his people just aren’t speaking as loud.

But it wasn’t always this way. He wasn’t always an old dog. Indeed this is a special dog. He has been with them for many years now. Seen them through both the good and the bad.

This was once a one-dog family. He joined them in the west and was beside them for all the adventures. He taught them how to fish on the Dampier Archipelago and to bring crayfish from the depths of Rottnest. They watched as he survived a snake bite, two days drive from the Gibb River Road, and cried when he ran off with the dingos north of Kalumbaru. They rescued him from a mine shaft near Roebourne and dragged the pit bull off him – just as he was winning the fight.

When one worked away from home, as so often they did in the west, he stayed and watched the remaining one. He would share their dinner, snuggle close to them on the couch and listen contently as they spoke of future times, and waited for the phone to ring.

They laughed with him when he chased his quarry, the rabbits and goannas, the goats and goldfish. Then their laughter quivered as he bailed up wild pigs and boxing kangaroos, for in his mind he is six foot tall and bullet-proof.

Then later he was with them in the painful years, when the promised children did not come. While friends and family offered advice and tried to understand, he laid his head against their legs and sighed. A silent third party witness to a two person grief.

“They treat that dog like a child” mocked some. Well, maybe so, maybe not.

Now they have ceased the travelling and the working away from each other and have settled into the farming life. At first he was the chief cattle dog, but the hills became too steep and the musters too long and so the other dogs came. Big, rangy, boofhead dogs, which took a little terrier, like himself, time to train. But train them he did. Bites them on the bum if needs be, pisses near their kennels when they’re locked up and he is strutting about on his morning rounds – in his pyjamas.

Then along came the pups which they say were his doing, but he denies all involvement. The pups, his pups, race around and bark and play and terrorise all things, knock him over on his wobbly legs, and snap at the big dogs with all the spunk inherited from their father.

But it is getting late now and he is tired. Soon it may be time for the last goodbye and already tears well in their eyes. Too much of themselves has been put into this small, black dog. Yet, they are not fools, they will not forget.

They see more than an old dog asleep by the fire.”

Sincere thanks to Mandy for sharing such a heartfelt reflection. Blessings to all those at Rocky Springs and to everyone who has loved and lost an old dog. May your grief take the time it takes.

More on country life at: http://rockysprings.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/pep/

Goodbye Humphrey

There is never a right time to lose your beloved dog. The grief is always unbearable, the loss often unspeakable. But to lose him at Christmas must be the most devestating time of all.

Humphrey, 16 years

Humphrey, 16 years

Our sincere sympathy to the Hardaker family of Sawtell near Coffs Harbour — Geoff, Tracee, Nathan and Troy, who lost their beloved Humphrey on Christmas Eve.

Humphrey was 16 and should have been in ‘Old Dogs on Meditation & Mindfulness’ but the photograph wasn’t quite sharp enough. Never mind, we thought, we’ll get a good shot for our next book. But time is uncertain, and precious, and too, too short for any old dog and we never have the time we want. They always go too soon, and when we’re not ready, and the emptiness they leave behind can be terrible.

Troy, 15, grew up with Humphrey, and we know how hard it must be for him. So for Troy, his family, and for anyone, anywhere, who has ever lost their beloved dog, we hope the poem below helps just a little.

Yesterday

I stood by your bed last night, I came to have a peep.
I could see that you were crying…you found it hard to sleep.

I whined to you softly as you brushed away a tear.
“It’s me, I haven’t left you…I’m well, I’m fine, I’m here.”

I was close to you at breakfast, I watched you pour the tea.
You were thinking of the many times, your hands reached down to me.

I was with you at the shops today, your arms were getting sore.
I longed to take your parcels, I wish I could do more.

I was with you at my grave today, you tend it with such care.
I want to reassure you that I am not lying there.

I walked with you toward the house, as you fumbled for your key,
I gently put my paw on you. I smiled and said, “It’s me.”

You looked so very tired, and sank into a chair.
I tried so hard to let you know that I was standing there.

It’s possible for me to be so near you every day.
To say to you with certainty, “I never went away.”

You sat there very quietly, then smiled, I think you knew…
In the stillness of that evening, I was very close to you.

The day is over…I smile and watch you yawning
And say, “Goodnight, God bless, I’ll see you in the morning.”

And when the time is right for you to cross the brief divide,
I’ll rush across to greet you and we will stand, side-by-side.

I have so many things to show you, there is so much for you to see.
Be patient, live your journey out…then come home to be with me.

Author Unknown

Sincere thanks to Marie-Elise for submitting this poem.

See also: Archive for August, 2013: Animal Chaplain

Dogs, Elephants, and a Lost Child!

Sometimes life takes off like a rocket and all we can do is hold on for the ride! In 2012, when Peter Derrett and I published, Old Dogs: Lessons in Loving & Ageing’, it felt as if we were launched into space without a safety belt, and our lives changed forever. It now looks as if 2014 might be equally exciting, and challenging!

On 26 February, my first novel, ‘The Lost Child’ will be released by Text Publishing. This weekend it was listed in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian as one of their recommended reads for 2014. Fingers and toes crossed that it finds interested readers! I’m learning that waiting for the launch date, and the reviews, is more nail-bitingly awful than anything I might have imagined as fiction!

Release, February, 2014

Release, February, 2014

Mid-year release, 2014

Mid-year release, 2014

In the middle of the year, we’ll be publishing ‘For The Love Of Elephants’. Yes, we’ve moved on to elephants! Peter has spent a lot of time at Elephantstay Sanctuary in Thailand and has been the impetus for us producing this original and beautiful book. We’re both really excited by the text and photographs, and part of the purchase price will help Elephantstay support the endangered Asian elephant.

Old Dogs on Family & Friends

Old Dogs on Family & Friends

This gorgeous old dog and equally gorgeous little girl are two of the stars from ‘Old Dogs on Family & Friends’, the last in our trilogy of gift books, this time featuring old dogs interacting with family and friends. Due for release in late 2014, the text is very touching and there are some exquisite photographs, many poignant and funny, others just plain wacky. We think you’ll love it!

Dogs Of Venice

Dogs Of Venice

And finally, we’re hoping to have ‘Dogs Of Venice’ on the shelves in time for Christmas, 2014. This book is Peter’s pet baby. Or puppy! Over the years, he’s spent a lot of time in Venice and has photographed the city extensively. But the dogs of Venice are something else again. A beautiful city demands a beautiful book and Peter and I are both very proud of the way ‘Dogs Of Venice’ is shaping up!

As this new year begins, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and abundance. How sometimes life is unbearably difficult, our sadness and regrets seem overwhelming, and we wonder how we can possibly keep going. Other times, the heavens seem to open and shower us with blessings. These are the times to be treasured and shared with loved ones, friends, and our furry friends–the ones who hold us together and make life worth living.

For 2014, I wish love and abundance for us all.

 

Seasons’s Greetings

Here’s Lily, who lives with Jill in Adelaide, South Australia, wearing a little bling for the festive season, and sending Christmas wishes to dogs and dog lovers everywhere.

Christmas Lily

Whether you’re missing a recently (or long) departed friend, or welcoming the addition of a four-legged family member, may your Christmas stockings be full of dogly treats and furry joy, and may 2014 bring good health and happiness to all.

With love from Lily and the Dogablog Team!

Christmas Ham…For The Dog

The man with the beautiful ham is shoeless and so he’s probably not the wealthiest man in the land. But in this image from a 16th century book of Christmas carols, it looks as if he’s about to share a slice of ham with his furry friend.

In Rennaisance Italy a ham like this would have been one expensive piece of meat! Evidently the typical Florentine ate meat only once a week, usually with the Saturday meal. To supplement their diet, workmen who labored on Brunelleschi’s Duomo made a sport of catching pigeons that nested on the ledges of the incomplete basilica.

So, whether the man used fair means or foul to come by his ham, it looks as if he loves his dog as much as we love our animals today. And what better time than Christmas, for a little spoiling with food.

The above image is from the rare book department of the Free Library of Philadelphia.