Stories tagged dogs

Apr
27
2010

Cat in a pot: imagine the heartburn and a hair ball!
Cat in a pot: imagine the heartburn and a hair ball!Courtesy Zoe
Yeah, I said it! Does the mere thought make your skin crawl? Or are you more inclined to daydream of a light mushroom sauce with parsnips and leeks? If you are the later, you may wish to hold your tongue. Recently, an Italian food show host got himself into hot water discussing his love of the feline meat as a “delicacy”. Later, he back stepped to say he only remembers these dishes from when he was a boy during the 1930’s and 1940’s. This cultural blunder still caused him to get sacked. Take a look at the video clip.

Indeed, this would not be a singular account of such ravenous behavior during the Second World War. Food shortages were a common issue that can become intensely exaggerated during times of conflict. Stories from England speak of ‘roof-rabbits’ when discussing the consumption of cats. Similar accounts abound from Bulgaria, Romania, Germany and Poland. Nor should this particular conflict be extraordinary. Diaries from U.S. Civil War prisoners speak directly to purchasing a dressed cat to supplement the meager rations of internment. Placed under the circumstances of starvation, a human being can resort to eating almost anything for sustenance. We need not revisit the fate of the Donner party.

So why all the moral outrage over the recollections of an aging Italian chef? The issue seems to come down to one major factor: culture. Thankfully, there is still a wide variety of culture and tradition across the globe that has not been homogenized. Western culture has cultivated the relationship with our cats and dogs to the point of companions. While most Asian cultures refrain from cat or dog consumption, it is not uncommon practice in poor or rural areas. The beliefs of Judaism and Islam prohibit the eating of any carnivore. Hindus would be aghast at American treatment of cattle. Eating of cats occurs in parts of Africa, including Ghana. Australian Aboriginals are known to roast them over an open fire. Incidents dot the globe like a wild season of the Amazing Race. Korea… Switzerland… Peru… Malaysia… Denmark… China… Kuwait… Brazil… Italy. There are many views on “friend or food”.
Cow legs in an African market: could you bring yourself to eat these?
Cow legs in an African market: could you bring yourself to eat these?Courtesy bthomoso

Simply, not all people view cats in the same light. We may not either if we get hungry enough. It is unfair to condemn others in their attempt to feed themselves. Americans, for the most part, are well removed from the processing of their food. No eyelashes or tails wagging under the shrink-wrap. Our diets have become less exotic than those of our ancestors. The stalls of food markets in other countries may shock us. The plates of the world’s indigenous peoples, I’m sure, are never graced by the double cheeseburger with fries and a shake. Yet, we are entertained vicariously by modern media. Shows such as Bizarre Foods walk us through eating habits of fellow humans across the earth. Should we find ourselves lost or stranded, Man vs. Wild subconsciously questions our resolve to eat in the wilderness. Here is to hoping it never comes to that!

I, for one, am content to not stew the cat. I’ll continue to nurture that mutually beneficial relationship we have, with her minding to the errant stray pest wandering indoors. I wish you the fortune of never being so hungry to consider a feline fricassee. Bon Appétit!

Mar
13
2009

Good advice: In any language.
Good advice: In any language.Courtesy troshy
Ahem.

Your day: Wake up, fart, lie in bed for a while, fart, get up, shower, force pie down your pie-hole, look at the calendar, realize that it is (once again) Friday the 13th, realize that nothing good will happen to you today even if you don’t get killed by a man in a hockey mask.

Wrong!!

I can’t comment on your chances of getting chopped down by a man in a hockey mask (it depends on your social circle), but the rest of your outlook on the day is, frankly, ridiculous. What about a Friday Extravagaaaaanza? Because we have one here on Science Buzz. Today! Today is Friday!

Seeing as how it is the 13th, however, this will be no Friday Cotton Candy Extravaganza, or Friday Ballroom Dancing and Butterfly Kisses Extravaganza. Nope. This Friday is all about the strained relationship between man and beast, and the dangerous head it can come to.

Millennia ago, when man first domesticated a few of the monsters wandering the wild world, a fragile alliance was formed. Whether through selective breading, or lucky natural mutations, some members of a few animal species became more amenable to a symbiotic relationship with humans. Some wolves, for instance, probably began to lose their fear of humans around 17,000 years ago (and perhaps much earlier). These wolves began to hang just a little closer to human camps, feeding on their trash and alerting the camp if any other animals approached. As the relationship grew closer, humans would provide the wolves (or dogs, eventually) with food and shelter, and the dogs would provide humans with all sorts of neat dog tricks, like hunting, pack-hauling, protection, etc.

But wolves/dogs, like all domesticated animals, occasionally resent this arrangement. They miss running around, and hanging out with their wild animal pals, and coming home drunk sometimes. Their human masters sense this, and think, “Hey! Why am I the bad guy? I didn’t make you do this. And maybe sometimes I want to run around a little too. But no, I have to stick around and feed you, and clean up your excrement.” And so the tension builds.

And it builds.

And it builds.

And it… BAM! Friday Extravaganza! Horse bites off man’s testicle! Man bite dog! Animals around the world attack each other, humans!

Let us consider the horse-on-testicle attack.

Little has been reported about the event, but here’s what we know: the biting took place in the very recent past in Indonesia. The man was unloading the horse’s cart, when, according to witnesses, the horse suddenly lunged at the man, and went straight for the crotchal region. Upon excision, the testicle was neither chewed nor swallowed. The horse, called “Budi,” simply spat the organ out onto the pavement, where it was collected by a bystander and delivered to the hospital, with the hope that it might be reattached. (My guess is that it wasn’t.)

If we look at a horse’s teeth, we’ll find that the placement of the molars takes them out of the ball-biting equation, especially when we consider the report that the organ remained relatively undamaged. Because it was a male horse, it’s possible that canine teeth were involved (male horses often have 4 or 5 canine teeth), but it’s almost certain that Budi’s incisors did the bulk of the damage. Horse incisors (their flat front teeth) are well designed for snipping and sheering vegetation, so they probably made short work of the spermatic cord and scrotum. I don’t suppose it was a tremendously clean cut, however.

The horse’s owner (who is not the man who was attacked) offered small consolation. The animal was trained, he said, but sometimes turned wild, and had bitten in the past.

In our other animal/biting news, the trial of an English dog-biter has just wrapped up. After being bitten on the hand himself, 29-year-old Philip Carter returned the favor to his cross terrier, Splodge. As was the case with the crotch-biting horse, what might have been hilarious in a cartoon ended up in a bitter, bloody mess. Bitten on the nose “in self defense,” Splodge received no medial treatment until the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arrived at the scene. Carter was arrested, and only just finished his trial, where he was fined and warned that any further dog-biting would result in a prison sentence.

Aside from canine damage and potential legal ramifications, there are some important health considerations associated with dog-biting. Dogs are, of course, vectors for rabies, and I don’t think biting a rabid dog is much safer than being bitten by one. Dogs can also be infected with a variety of tick-borne disease, like Lyme disease and Rock Mountain spotted fever, although I’m uncertain if they can be passed on through a skin-breaking bite. A small host of canine fungal infections can infect humans, as well as a handful of parasites and a nasty little flesh-eating disease called Leishmaniasis.

So, if you needed any other reasons not to bite dogs, or why you should be afraid of horses…

You can now get back to your Friday the 13ths.

Sep
19
2008

You'll never guess what's in the can: This isn't Sable Sheets, by the way. Just some other pro-sniffer.
You'll never guess what's in the can: This isn't Sable Sheets, by the way. Just some other pro-sniffer.Courtesy Thomas Hawk
Oops. I forgot y’all are too cool to read the word “poopy” now and again. Maybe next time I’ll drop an S-bomb on y’all. Or I could write “sulfurous compounds,” or skatole, or indole. But where would that get us? Nowhere very graphic, certainly.

So, how would you like it if it was your job to sniff out human feces?

Well, I’m sorry, but the job has already been taken. Taken, no less, by a member of a group whose mission in this country seems to be to take jobs from honest, upstanding Americans. That’s right: dogs.

This particular dog is named Sable Sheets, and he hails from Lansing, Michigan. (He doesn’t actually have a last name, being a dog, so I gave him one.) Sable is a professional sniffer of crap. If sniffing human feces were an Olympic sport, Sable would be a gold medalist, if it were a martial art, Sable would be a ninja. It is a serious pursuit—Sable sniffs for the government.

Since he was a puppy, Sable has been trained to recognize certain smells: the odors of water contaminants. Earlier this week, we went over just how great at smelling dogs are. Sable needs to be a great smeller, because not only does he have to recognize chemical contaminants, like those that come from household detergents, but he also has to be able to distinguish animal feces from human feces. A little animal feces in the water is gross, but if Sable can detect human feces it’s a sign that there could be a failed and leaking septic system nearby. Aside from the other obvious issues involved with poop in your water, leaking septic systems can lead to E. coli contaminating rivers and streams. And we don’t want that.

Municipal governments hire Sable and his handler, a former K-9 officer, to check out catch basins, outflows, and manhole covers. If Sable gets a hint of duke, he barks and looks at his handler.

E. coli bacteria can, of course, be detected without the help of a dog, but only with the help of laboratory equipment. To find and test all possible sources of E. coli contamination in a water system would take a tremendous amount of time and effort. A dog like Sable—who, at the moment, might be one of a kind—can speed up the effort greatly. He’s like a miniature, mobile, furry lab. Based on the sample’s that have been sent to the lab on account of Sable’s barks, the dog is about 87 percent accurate.

His handler adds that Sable is “getting better; getting more refined.” Sort of like a connoisseur of fine wines, really, but with… you know.

Sep
15
2008

Makes me wonder...: Where were you on the night of the incident?
Makes me wonder...: Where were you on the night of the incident?Courtesy kalimistuk
A French dog, nicknamed “Scooby,” may be the first animal in the history of animals to be used as a witness in a murder trial.

Scooby, whose real name (I’m guessing) is being withheld for his own safety, is believed to have been present when his 59-year old owner was hung from the ceiling of her Paris apartment.

The death was initially supposed to be a suicide, but the dead woman’s family demanded a murder investigation. During the preliminary trial, the dog was lead to the witness box to see how it reacted to a suspect. Scooby is reported to have started “barking furiously” as he neared the suspect.

The judge has yet to decide whether there’s enough evidence to launch a full murder inquiry, but was very impressed with Scooby.

In addition to the outburst at the witness, however, several crotches and one butt have been added to the list of suspects.

Soooo… How can this be a science story? Well, let us consider the olfactory prowess of your average dog, and how that could possibly be considered as evidence in a case that would put a person in jail for, no doubt, a long, long time.

I don’t know if you live in an area where skulls—preferably mammal skulls—are readily available. If you do have a local skull store or skull pit, however, do yourself a favor and grab a skull or two. If you check out the nose hole (don’t use that term on any skull-themed tests, by the way), you’ll see a bunch of thin, bony, scroll-shaped plates. Air passing through the nose hole (again…) is spread out over the surface of these plates. The chemicals that give inhaled air its odor are dissolved into the mucus produced by the spongy tissue covering the plates. The chemicals (or odors) in the mucus are then detected by little antlered nerve cells (keep that one off the test too). These nerve cells run pretty much directly to the brain, where the detected chemicals are analyzed. The brain can then decide if you’ve just smelled triple berry pie, or, say, a French murderer.

Now, while I know of several individuals I could probably identify by smell, I’m pretty certain that I couldn’t pull your average French murderer out of a lineup by odor alone. But, then, I’m no dog.

The area of tissue covered with smell receptors in a human’s nose slightly less than a couple square inches—about the size of a big postage stamp. A dog, on the other hand, has enough smell receptors to cover an area of tissue almost as big as a standard sheet of printer paper. And while all dogs are significantly better smellers than humans (that is to say, better at receiving smells, not giving off pleasant ones), certain breeds of dog far outstrip the rest. A human, for instance, has about five million smell receptors. A wiener dog has about one hundred and twenty five million smell receptors, and a German shepherd has two hundred and twenty five million. Bloodhounds have about 300 million smell receptors. What’s more, the percentage of a dog’s brain devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than the same area in a human’s brain. All things considered, it is thought that dogs are perhaps ten thousand times more sensitive smellers than humans. (Or, if you go by Wikipedia, a dog’s sense of smell is as much as one hundred million times more sensitive than a person’s. But I’d keep that off the test too.) Add all this to the notion that individuals may have unique individual odors, and it makes sense that a dog might be able to identify a person who had murdered their companion/owner.

Then again, I’m not sure I’d want to leave something like that up to a dog.

Dogs have a sense of
right and wrong,
which is more than
some people can say.
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Sci-ku ™ -- haiku in the service of science!

Jun
25
2008

Night vision eyeballs: one of the many new features of Pets 2.0
Night vision eyeballs: one of the many new features of Pets 2.0Courtesy *robert
You know, I’ve said it before, but it’s about time we get rid of some of our old pets to make way for the new generation.

Think about it: your old pets—they stink, nobody’s impressed by them anymore, they’re always coming home drunk or not at all, they’ve got bad attitudes and ridiculous sense of entitlement. Why keep them around? Especially when there’s a whole new brand of pet on the horizon: cyberpooches*.

When a cooler new cell phone comes out, you don’t think much of discarding your old one for it, do you? And your pets can’t play streaming video, or mp3s, or send emails. Your pets can’t even make calls, can they?

Not…not really. Not as such. So dump the suckers and upgrade. Invest in a little rollermutt, like Hope McRollydog here.

Hope is a Maltese puppy. The Maltese is a toy/poodle breed, puffy, white, and weighing about as much as my phone, stapler, and mug put together. So they’ve already got some problems. This particular Maltese has the additional challenge of being born with no front legs.

Well, that’s not totally fair—I guess she had two wiggly little nubs, but not full legs by most standards.

Anyway, little Rollerderby Von Madmax has gotten pretty good at squirming around, and even at hopping around on her hind legs, but apparently that’s no good for dog backs—the backs of dogs—so someone had the clever idea of creating little wheely arms for her. Now Robo del Driver has a custom-cast body harness with two independent legs ending in model airplane wheels.

At first the pooch had a little trouble with the contraption, and kept falling over sideways (unfortunately, no video exists of this that I’m aware of), but now she’s zooming around at a “surprisingly break-neck pace.”

So that’s a happy story. Maybe not for you old pets, V1.0, but whatev.

Oh, a little genetic side note—sometimes when you boil down a gene pool to get certain traits to consistently express themselves, like you might when breeding, say, tiny show dogs, you end up running a risk of cultivating other, less cute traits. Like if you keep breeding little doggies with the puffiest, fluffiest white hair together, you’d probably get some puppies with the puffiest, fluffiest white hair. But if some of those very puffy, fluffy haired dogs happen to have a recessive gene for something like bad hips (which won’t affect the beautiful hair, and so is never bred out) eventually those recessive genes are going to meet, and you’re going to get a puffy, fluffy puppy with bad hips. Look at monarchies around the world—blood lines get twisted enough, and kings have royal relatives all over the place, but the also have hemophilia and sailboat ears.

This isn’t to say that little Dunebuggy Fuzzybutt’s condition came from irresponsible breeding. Even if it did, I’d say breed that little sucker again. The more Universal Soldier dogs, the better.

*I’m in the process of trademarking “cyberpooch,” “cyberpooches,” and “cyberpoochz,” so hands off, greedyguts.

Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced Korean stem cell researcher, is back in the news again with a report that he has successfully cloned dogs.

Don't you just hate it when your dog swallows a cane toad? Click on this video to find out, and see, what occurred when this happened in New Zealand. WARNING: You will see dog vomit in this video.

May
22
2008

You want to do what with my DNA?: A California company is auctioning off the rights to make clones of the dogs of the five highest online bidders.
You want to do what with my DNA?: A California company is auctioning off the rights to make clones of the dogs of the five highest online bidders.Courtesy monkeyc.net
A man’s best friend could become a permanent best friend under a proposal being floated by a California company. BioArts International is offering to clone the dogs of the five highest bidders, guaranteeing that they’ll always have some version of their favorite pet throughout their life.

But before you get too excited, it won’t be cheap. Opening bid prices are $100,000. And the chief cloner is scientist from South Korea who was discredited by having faked research in an earlier cloning project. The research team has already made three cloned dogs from the DNA of dog from BioArts’ CEO. The original dog, Missy, died in 2002.

There are plenty of issues to chew on this ethical bone. The fervent anti-cloners fear that this could be the first step in human cloning. If people are willing to pony up the dough to duplicate a favorite pet, wouldn’t that stoke the fires for creating a duplicate of a favorite baby or child?

On the flip side, pro-cloners say why not continue to give people the joy and pleasures they receive from a favorite pet even after its lifetime ends.

The BioArts CEO vouches for the effectiveness of dog cloning. Missy’s clones exhibit much of the same behavioral characteristics he saw in Missy. You've got some time to round up the cash if you want to do this to your dog. The auction begins on June 18. More details are hear at the BioArts website.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? Would you like to clone your dog? Is so, how much would you be willing to pay? Share your thoughts here with other Buzz readers.