Tag Archives: Ethics

Gilly’s obsession with mac-n-cheese, explained.

Interesting research on wolves, dogs, and digestion of carbohydrates:

“No one knows for sure when or where the first dogs came to be, but most evolutionary biologists agree that the wolf probably made the first move and that the draw was the food humans discarded. Only much later did people intensively mate dogs of different shapes and temperaments to create today’s hundreds of breeds and varieties, from the hulking and noble to the tiny and yapping.

The new analysis by Axelsson and his colleagues examined a mix of DNA from 12 gray wolves and compared it with DNA collected from 60 domestic dogs, including cocker spaniels, giant schnauzers, golden retrievers and 11 other breeds.

The scientists sequenced the dog and wolf DNA and searched for tiny differences. Because they were seeking features that cropped up early in dog evolution, they focused on genetic variations that dogs shared but wolves lacked. They also looked for variations that all, or most, of the dogs had in common.

From this analysis, the team identified 36 places in the genome, containing 122 genes, that seemed to have been important in dog evolution. Ten of the genes are involved in starch or fat metabolism, including three that carry instructions for making a protein that is pivotal to digestion of starch.

In addition to the starch genes, Axelsson’s team found others involved in brain and nervous system development that appear to have been important in the transition from wolf to dog.

That isn’t surprising, said Adam Boyko, an evolutionary geneticist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who wasn’t involved in the study. Dogs differ behaviorally from wolves in myriad ways, he said — in tameness, curiosity, social structure, tail-wagging, novelty-seeking behavior and their penchant to bark (and bark) well into adulthood.

The next step is to study that list of genes to figure out how they affect behavior and development to make dogs distinct, Boyko said.

Oscar Chavez, director of the veterinary technician program at Cal Poly Pomona, said the findings served as a reminder that dogs don’t eat like wolves. He said he and his colleagues were befuddled by the trend toward pricey low-carb dog foods and raw diets, which could stress dogs’ kidneys with their extra protein load.”

You can read the whole thing here.

This is not news, by the way – instead, this is new and more detailed science explaining why domesticated dogs are omnivorous, and how we know.

I linked a good article on the mythologies associated with canine digestion, woo-based GRAINS = DEATH! fads, and raw foods diets a while back: worth a read if you’re considering how to best feed your beloved canine friends.

And for what it’s worth, which isn’t much (since people are devoted to doing exactly what they’re doing, most of the time, regardless of evidence that it isn’t working, sigh): if your dogs get sick every time they eat – which is truly not normal (a thing that shouldn’t need saying but does) – some things to consider:

  •  go to an evidence-based vet (not someone who suggests not only unproven but actually disproven treatments like homeopathy and acupuncture and raw foods/BARF/Chinese medicine which has never been tested for use in animals & is more likely to be toxic to them than anything out of your fridge/etc.
  • human beings who never go outside except under very controlled and artificial conditions, who never ‘eat dirt,’ as we say (develop healthy and necessary gut bacteria and appropriate immune system response to their environments), or otherwise live in totally sterile, urbanized, or otherwise unnatural environments also become weak and ill and hyper-reactive and allergic to the entire world – we now make dogs live this way, too, and they pay for it just as we do
  • we have over-bred dogs into literal physical dysfunction which causes them profound suffering and disease; the total lack of functioning of a digestive system that when healthy is essentially that of a scavenger may be a by-product of this inbreeding
  • and finally: people project a lot of their own psychological issues about food, food-as-love, illness, illness-as-love, etc. onto their dogs in ways that are quite harmful and restrictive to the animals – do try to not be that person, for your dog’s sake, eh?

Some of these things we have control over, some we don’t – but a lot of it is our garbage, not theirs.

There are about a billion forums and websites dedicated to how to feed your dog. Most of them cater to human issues and baggage about food and illness, not canine ones.

Again, for whatever it’s worth – which isn’t much all things considered – my experience is that the way humans and dogs are most alike is this: if someone gets several hours of really good exercise spread out throughout each day, good sleep, high quality and balanced food of a wide variety excluding poisons, meaningful work, clear boundaries and expectations so they know how to be safe, successful, and secure in their world, happy and regular socialization with others, and love, they are happy and healthy. If these things go out of balance in a big way, they start to fall apart.


Arthritis research updates

Summaries of some new research on CAM arthritis treatments, via SkeptVet:

I’ve written extensively about alternative arthritis therapies, largely because that is one of the most common conditions for which complementary and alternative treatments are used. While a few are promising (such as fish oils), there is little good evidence to support most such practices. A detailed and very useful new review of alternative therapies for arthritis in humans has just been released. And while extrapolation from humans to pets has dangers and has to be viewed with some skepticism, this at least gives us some guidance as to whether such therapies have proven their value for people, a question for which the evidence is usually much greater in quantity and quality than we often get for veterinary uses.

In super-brief: still no evidence for glucosamine/chondroitin in either humans or animals (though you’ll still get told by many you’re the Worst Dog Owner EVER if you don’t spend! spend! spend! on it anyway). Still some evidence for possible benefit in fish oil. And SAMe may improve functional mobility.

Read the whole brief & useful summary here.

My best strategy for Gilly, at this stage (eleven & a half year old lifelong athlete), seems to still be: keep him trim, keep him strong and well-muscled, decrease his high-impact running and diving and general crack-headedness about sticks and instead increase long, mellow walks and never-more-than-trot bike rides.

I also give him salmon oil in his food several times a week (because he likes it, it seems to be good for his coat, and it may or may not help in other ways), I make sure he gets a wide variety of delicious, balanced, and healthy foods and treats and all the other things that keep him happy, well-socialized, low-stress and well-rested.

When he inevitably topples in a rumpus or slips (something he used to have rubber-bones to deal with or prevent, but which now is more frequent as well as painful and consequential), I don’t make a big deal of it but rein him in and try to be mindful of minimizing the hazards of falls on ice or uneven ground. His joints just aren’t as flexible as they used to be, and sometimes – often, actually – he forgets that, so I try to remember for him.

Mostly, I have to remember that he’s mortal. And yes, I hate that. But my job is to protect and maintain his quality of life as best as I can, not to project magical thinking onto him – at the expense of more useful approaches – simply to make myself feel better.

This is (finally!) fantastic news for animals in abusive homes, and for the people who won’t leave them behind:

Massachusetts Dog is First in the State to be Protected under Domestic Violence Restraining Order

A six-year-old Labrador mix named Panzer is being kept in an unidentified location to protect him from a former abusive owner.  He is the first dog in Massachusetts to be recognized under a restraining order for domestic violence.

In August, Governor Deval Patrick signed a large bill called “An Act Further Regulating Animal Control.”  A smaller section of the law stipulates that possession of an animal may be awarded to a victim to “prohibit the accused from abusing, threatening or taking a pet.”  Previously, a judge could only mandate that the accused stay away from the victim and their child(ren).

Research has indicated that over 70 percent of abused women say their abusers have threatened to harm or kill their pets.  Nearly 50 percent of victims put off leaving abusive and dangerous situations for fear of what might happen to pets that get left behind.

“Leaving a pet behind is not an option,” Holmquist said.  “It’s about animals and their safety and removing the barrier so people can feel the pet is protected in a situation.”

Panzer is currently staying in a foster home while his mother and her young son stay at an out-of-state domestic violence shelter.

“It is hoped that [the judge’s] order for the inclusion of Panzer in [this] Restraining Order has set a precedent and that moving forward we will see a lot more of these Abuse Protection Orders,” said Marshfield Animal Control Officer Demi Goldman.

Hopefully this law will gain favor and be passed in other states.  Perhaps then domestic violence shelters might also open their hearts a little more to allow animals to stay with and be just as well-protected as their owners who were brave enough to leave and seek help.


Someone forwarded this to me on Facebook: a beautiful letter from Fiona Apple to her South American fans, about why she had to reschedule her tour.

It’s 6pm on Friday,and I’m writing to a few thousand friends I have not met yet.

I am writing to ask them to change our plans and meet a little while later.

Here’s the thing.

I have a dog Janet, and she’s been ill for almost two years now, as a tumor has been idling in her chest, growing ever so slowly. She’s almost 14 years old now.I got her when she was 4 months old. I was 21 then ,an adult officially – and she was my child.

She is a pitbull, and was found in Echo Park, with a rope around her neck, and bites all over her ears and face. She was the one the dogfighters use to puff up the confidence of the contenders.

She’s almost 14 and I’ve never seen her start a fight ,or bite, or even growl, so I can understand why they chose her for that awful role. She’s a pacifist.

Janet has been the most consistent relationship of my adult life, and that is just a fact.

We’ve lived in numerous houses, and jumped a few make shift families, but it’s always really been the two of us.

She slept in bed with me, her head on the pillow, and she accepted my hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken, or spirit-broken, or just lost, and as years went by, she let me take the role of her child, as I fell asleep, with her chin resting above my head.
She was under the piano when I wrote songs, barked any time I tried to record anything, and she was in the studio with me all the time we recorded the last album.

The last time I came back from tour, she was spry as ever, and she’s used to me being gone for a few weeks every 6 or 7 years.

She has Addison’s Disease, which makes it dangerous for her to travel since she needs regular injections of Cortisol, because she reacts to stress and to excitement without the physiological tools which keep most of us from literally panicking to death.
Despite all of this, she’s effortlessly joyful and playful, and only stopped acting like a puppy about 3 years ago.

She’s my best friend and my mother and my daughter, my benefactor, and she’s the one who taught me what love is.

I can’t come to South America. Not now.
When I got back from the last leg of the US tour, there was a big, big difference.

She doesn’t even want to go for walks anymore.

I know that she’s not sad about aging or dying. Animals have a survival instinct, but a sense of mortality and vanity, they do not. That’s why they are so much more present than people.

But I know that she is coming close to point where she will stop being a dog, and instead, be part of everything. She’ll be in the wind, and in the soil, and the snow, and in me, wherever I go.

I just can’t leave her now, please understand.

If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.

Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to pick which socks to wear to bed.

But this decision is instant.

These are the choices we make, which define us.

I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship.
I am the woman who stays home and bakes Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend.
And helps her be comfortable, and comforted, and safe, and important.

Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life, that keeps us feeling terrified and alone.

I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time.

I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.

I need to do my damnedest to be there for that.
Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.

When she dies.

So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and reveling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel.

And I am asking for your blessing.I’ll be seeing you.

Love, Fiona

Complementary and alternative medicine: an information resource

I meant to share this post from SkeptVet a while back: a useful compendium of info on CAM and why skepticism matters.

The Harm Complementary and Alternative Medicine Can Do

What’s the Harm

I have written often about ways in which complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be harmful. This is not because I believe CAM is necessarily always unsafe, or that I think conventional medicine doesn’t have significant risks as well. Any therapy that is doing anything at all is likely to have potential risks as well as benefits. It simply isn’t possible to tinker with as complex a system as a living organism without affecting elements of the system one does not intend as well as those one is targeting.

However, the advantage to science-based medicine is that the risks and benefits of individual therapies are often well understood. If we have sufficient information about what an intervention does and what the risks and benefits of it are, we can then make rational choices about using it. The problem with CAM is that there is often very little information about risks and benefits and yet strong claims are frequently made that these therapies work and are safe. The lack of real, scientific information, and beliefs about safety which are not founded on reliable evidence can generate harm.

What follows is a large resource-list of the evidence-based research on varying kinds of CAM sometimes recommended for animals (and humans), and a clear discussion of the associated risks.

Excellent news:

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a law today that bans breed specific legislation.

Before pit bulls, it was rottweilers. Before rottweilers, it was dobermans. Before dobermans, it was shepherds. And it’s always, always been the people who are responsible.

Right on, Gov. Patrick.

Human shelter taking animals, as they all should

Heroic Dog Saves Owner from Abusive Spouse, Incites Change in Shelter Policy

When the Rose Brooks Center for women took in a domestic violence victim and her heroic dog, they bent the rules in doing so, setting the wheels in motion for a much needed change in policy.

Like most battered women’s shelters, the Rose Brooks Center did not accommodate pets. But this was no ordinary dog: when her boyfriend tried to kill the woman with a hammer, her fearless Great Dane jumped in the way, laying over her body and taking most of the blows until the man threw both of them out of a second story window. The dog suffered multiple broken bones in the attack, sparing his owner’s life in the process.

Despite their injuries, the woman was able to escape with her dog, and eventually made her way to the Rose Brooks Center. When they offered her a bed and told her no pets were allowed, she was defiant, and for the first time in its history, the shelter overlooked regulations and allowed the dog to stay.

That decision would eventually lead to a permanent change in policy. Knowing that forty percent of battered women with pets stay in abusive relationships in order to protect their pets, the center’s chief executive officer, Susan Miller, said adding a pet-friendly wing would remove a serious barrier that women face when attempting to leave an abusive relationship. Miller was the one who had ultimately made the call to admit the woman and her dog.

This is so good.

I have many posts here about why, but here’s an intro:

Animal abuse and violence against women and children

“We were bored.” Animal abuse, the abuse of women and children, and the erosion of empathy

Animal abuse laws begin to catch on –