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Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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Reintroducing ourselves to the wolf

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A guest essay from Karla Powell.

A couple of weeks ago, an email arrived in my ‘in-box’, as follows:

Hi Karla and Paul,

I hope this email finds you both well. I recently met Karla on an Oregon Wild hike last weekend in the Gorge. Karla is a longtime Oregon Wild supporter, passionate wildlife advocate and published author. She recently wrote a really lovely article on the human connection to wolves that I found quite inspiring.

I wanted you two to connect as Paul is also a wildlife advocate, now living in southern Oregon with his wonderful partner Jean. Paul, I thought you might be able to recommend a place, online or otherwise, Karla might be able to submit this article. I think you’ll quite enjoy it.

Thank you both for supporting our work for so many years,

Clearly, I was able to recommend a place where Karla could submit her article! Here on Learning from Dogs!

Karla and I made contact and, bingo!, here is her remarkable essay.


Reintroducing Ourselves to the Wolf

Karla Powell

Is it possible that by reconciling our troubled relationship with the North American wolf, we may come to better know our own nature as well as theirs? In the realm of natural history, wolves have long been left to myth and superstition. “Well into the 20th century, even science lagged behind in its knowledge of wolves and retained certain biases,” says award-winning nature writer, Barry Lopez, in his definitive book Of Wolves and Men. Even in the 21st century, science still can be skewed towards special interests. Yet the relative merits of facts notwithstanding, it is opinions about wolves that hold sway, points out Lopez.

As a lifelong urban creature, I had neither opinions nor knowledge when it came to the existence of wolves. Then in mid-life I found myself living alone in a cabin in rural Oregon and running a Junior Rangers program for the local state park. I also oversaw the weekend evening family programs. One such program featured hybrid wolves who’d found shelter in a nearby sanctuary and were presented for educational purposes. It was the closest I’d ever come to the real thing. So the next day I incorporated the theme of wolves into my Jr. Ranger activity.

I began by encouraging my young charges to howl along with me. I’d been practicing in the car on the way and it felt great! (I can see why they say wolves may howl at times for sheer pleasure.) My Jr. Rangers eagerly entered the fray, and every dog in the campground soon followed. Contrast this youthful exuberance to the dispiriting recollection of Joseph Marshall, author of The Wolf: A Native American Symbol. Marshall’s tale is recounted in the book War Against Wolf. “As a seven-year-old, I knew that there were no wolves left in my world, and I knew why. One day my grandfather… told me that the spirits of all the dead wolves … would wait until the time was right for them to return and walk again on the earth.”

Marshall, a Sicangu Lakota, believed that the 1995 reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone heralded that this day had arrived. Yet we’re still a far cry from the sustainable recovery of a species we nearly annihilated. Reintroduction efforts in several western states contend with tired old beliefs. This vocal minority seem to me not far removed from those distant ancestors whose hysteria about the animal went so far as to conjure human “werewolves,” who were hunted and burned alive.

The folklore that led to such extremes was ultimately carried to our shores. In the book Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, the author tells of “Euro-American colonists who captured live wolves and tortured them for fun, ignoring the animals’ cowering for clemency.” Yet canines at home could display similar signals, which their masters sympathetically interpreted.

None other than John James Audubon casually recorded the maniacal torture and vicious killing of a pack of wolves by an Ohio farmer in 1814. Audubon and other observers, including trappers, sometimes noted the meek submittal of wolves to human aggression. Yet even a naturalist at that time couldn’t extrapolate this to meaningful analysis of wolves’ socialization, which includes “signaling” postures as a plea for mercy.

“This is not predator control,” says Lopez in his chapter on the gruesome excesses of “wolf fever” in the settling of our continent. “It is the violent expression of a terrible assumption: that men have the right to kill other creatures not for what they do, but for what we fear they may do.” Lopez then goes on to discuss “theriophobia” or “fear of the beast as an irrational, violent, insatiable creature.” The author continues: “At the heart of theriophobia is the fear of one’s own nature.”

Some 200 years before Christ, the Roman dramatist Plautus pithily depicted the beast we humans carry within by saying, “Man is wolf to man.” A glance at today’s headlines reveals that man’s dual nature is far from reconciled. Our legacy with the wolf is equally dualistic. In conquest, labels of savagery or demonization of the “other” are commonly projected by the oppressor onto those whom they, in turn, savagely treat. Wilderness and wildlife also are targets of such dominating impulses.

The most basic familiarity with human psychology recognizes that if we repress or deny our own capacity for shadowy motives, we invariably project such motives onto scapegoats. In America’s nation-building, the 19th century campaign to exterminate the wolf indicates we were far more guilty of depradation upon them than they upon us.

The ever-popular Saint Francis of Assisi also lived in a time of conquest run amok. An allegory about a wolf in Gubbio, Italy, has Francis and this village interloper come to an amical agreement that restored harmony for all. A contemporary visionary can be found in environmental activist George Monbiot. His 2013 TEDGlobal talk addresses the trophic cascade that resulted from the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone.

This phenomenon begins at the top of the food chain and tumbles down, says Monbiot. The return of wolves to Yellowstone has restored the entire ecosystem to a more healthful balance, recalling the “complex, lost, natural food chains that once prevailed,” explains Monbiot. This trophic cascade brought about by wolves simply being wolves has regenerated entire valleys and even changed the behavior of a river, he points out.

Just as St. Francis struck a deal with the wolf of Gubbio by promising he’d be fed by the villagers, we moderns too might benefit from a more cooperative pact. The wolf was a source of fascination to Homo sapiens when they also existed as communal hunters. Some theorize that prehistoric man’s social structure was modeled on how effectively wolves assured their packs’ common good.

The advent of an agrarian society disrupted this complex food chain that formerly prevailed. An agrarian society also emphasized the notion of property. The most common argument against wolves in agricultural communities is they kill animals that are human property. Yet since we’ve eradicated the natural habitat and prey of our indigenous wolf, their only guilt is they must eat to survive. This is no sin, as St. Francis demonstrated at Gubbio.

Top predators such as wolves needed time to adapt to such “quirky and aggressive killers {as man},” says Vicious author Jon T. Coleman. “The short supply of energy at the top of the food pyramid denied them this time. Euro-American colonists attacked animals in a vulnerable niche, creatures stuck with few options in a thermodynamic dead end.”

Consider that the very term “civilizing forces” is an oxymoron. Judging from how we have in some ways devolved into morbid obesity and epidemic diet-related diseases (many of them induced by altering food’s integrity), is it not possible for us to restore more wonder into our world by “rewilding” somewhat, as Monbiot and others propose? Not a return to the Stone Age. But perhaps a truly evolutionary step. One that restores us to a future that can reimagine coexistence as an effective survival strategy.

As an archetype in differing cultures, the wolf has been both revered and demonized. Yet whether seen as good or evil, it is still being objectified. Can we not instead view it as a living being worthy of both reason and regard? Despite more data about wolves than ever before, reason still lags behind, Lopez notes in the afterword to his original book. “Some folklore is so deeply entrenched that its adherents completely shut out emerging insights … In their rigid stances, they are impervious even to reason.”

As for regard, I suggest some discernment that takes us beyond even the necessary rational analysis. No less than Kepler, Darwin and Einstein have said that intuition is key to the scientific process, Lopez points out. He then suggests that we remind ourselves, “There could be more, there could be things we don’t understand.” Such a reminder may be our only hope for the wolf— as well as for us.


I have no doubt that everyone who reads Karla’s wonderful essay will be enthralled by the beautiful messages.

Only one way to close today’s post.

The long-awaited return of the Yellowstone wolf!

The long-awaited return of the Yellowstone wolf!

Saints required.

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Recognising just what our dogs mean to us.

After yesterday’s tribute to Pharaoh, a timely reminder came in from Suzann in an email about the many, many dogs in much less fortunate circumstances.

Let me first include what Su said in her email.

Here is Jax, a pup I rescued at 3 1/2 weeks old with one partial leg missing and bleeding.
I sent him to my amiga J9 and she has had him for a while now and is having a benefit for him to raise money for a prosthetic for him to save his back.
Is this the kind of thing that I can put on your website?
Let me know.
He is a precious little guy and needs this desperately to help him find a great home as well.
Let me know.


I rang Su immediately and confirmed that this was perfect for Learning from Dogs.

What Su also included in her email was the following information.

So, please, share this post just as far and wide as you can. (And if you can spare a few pennies to help, then all the better!)




Jax’s Story:

Jax was living with his feral mom on the desert of Mexico and was only 3-1/2 weeks old when he got his leg stuck in some fencing. Mom tried and tried to free him… eventually chewing off his paw in order to save his life. Coyotes roamed the area and a small puppy would not have been able to protect himself from them. Thankfully, a wonderful man saw what had happened and rushed the bleeding puppy to the nearest rescue for care, which happened to be our sister organization in San Carlos, Mexico, Ambos Rescue.

Jax was taken to a local vet, who then determined that the pup’s lower leg needed to be amputated. This was done with the hopes that Jax would be able to receive a prosthetic leg in the future, which is why they did not do a full amputation, thus limiting his choices.

But now Jax runs the risk of throwing his back out with the little stub he flaps around… and he needs either a full amputation, or a prosthetic leg before he permanently does damage to his spine. Amputation is always an option but we would like to try a prosthetic first.

This Garage Sale is for Jax… PLEASE SUPPORT HIM!

Saturday, June 6th – 7:30 am
(Until 2:30… or maybe 3:00)
1010 Olympic Way, Nipomo, CA


Anyone who wishes to donate
directly to Jax’s Fund
can mail a check to:
P.O. Box 2952, Orcutt, CA 93457

or by PayPal (check or credit card) on our website:

P.O. Box 2952 – Orcutt, CA 93457

Email: CentralCoastSPCA@yahoo.com

Thank you!

Written by Paul Handover

June 6, 2015 at 00:00

A very ancient relationship

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My relationship with Pharaoh has echoes of much earlier times.

This is a post that was originally published by Learning from Dogs back in July 2012!

It seemed so fitting to repost it this week. Not only in recognition of my dear Pharaoh’s birthday yesterday, but also in recognition of all the dogs and their loving human companions since time immemorial. What magnificent creatures they are.


The woof at the Door.

The grandeur of the ancient relationship between dog and man.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a fascinating article that had been published in American Scientist magazine (online version) written by Professor Pat Shipman.  The article provided the background and evidence to support the proposition that dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized.

Very quickly I came across Pat Shipman’s website and learnt that this is one clever lady. As her About page explains,


Prof. Shipman

I am internationally known as a paleoanthropologist and conducted research for many years in Africa on human evolution and the animal communities in which humans evolved.

I have conducted research on material from sites in France, Spain, the United States, Java, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.  I have written more than 50 scholarly articles, appearing in journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of Archaeological Science, Paleobiology, Journal of Human Evolution, and Current Anthropology.

I have written more than 100 articles in popular science magazines or newspapers, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, American Scientist, Discover, and Natural History. Two of my books were featured on the cover of The New York Times Book Review: The Neadertals and Taking Wing. Taking Wing won the Phi Beta Kappa prize for science book of the year and was a runner-up for the LA Times Science Book prize.

My book on Homo erectus, Wisdom of the Bones, was co-authored by Alan Walker and won the Rhone-Poulenc Prize in science writing.

My books have been widely praised as compelling, accessible, and highly readable, with a strong narrative thread. Reviewers frequently comment upon the meticulous research that underpins my books, a feature I consider to be my trademark.

My most recent popular science book, The Ape in the Tree, written with Alan Walker, was called by The Vancouver Sun “part adventure story, part cutting-edge science.” In a Science magazine review, the book was praised as “a fine account of new ways to puzzle out the behaviors of fossilized animals from odd scraps of bone.” Another reviewer raved, “Wonderfully engaging and insightful, The Ape in the Tree, is sure to become a classic in the literature on human origins.” MacArthur fellow John Fleagle wrote in the Quarterly Review of Biology, “Science writing doesn’t get any better than this.” In 2009, this book was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Prize by the American Anthropological Association.

In Britain, my new biography of Mata Hari, Femme Fatale, was selected as The Book of the Week by BBC radio. Each day during the week, an actress gave dramatic readings from the book on the air for fifteen minutes.

With The Animal Connection, I return to paleoanthropology and consider the influence of our connection with animals on human evolution and the origin of modern human behavior.

See what I mean!

Anyway, as you can readily understand, as the author of a blog that writes about what we can learn from this ancient relationship between the dog and man, it struck me as wonderful if I might be permitted to republish in full that article.  Prof. Shipman promptly gave me such permission.

So today, I am doing just that and tomorrow I want to write more about Pat Shipman’s latest book, The Animal Connection.


The Woof at the Door

Dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized

Pat Shipman

It’s funny how much difference a single letter makes. A “woof” at the door is a very different thing from a wolf at the door. One is familiar, domestic, reassuring; the other is a frightening apparition of imminent danger. The distinction between our fond companions and the ferocious predator of northern climes goes back a long way.

Dogs are descended from wolves, probably the gray wolf. Some scientists argue that, because dogs and wolves can and do interbreed, they shouldn’t be considered to be separate species at all. They believe that domestic dogs are only a subspecies or variant of the gray wolf, Canis lupus, and ought to be called Canis lupus familiaris (the familiar or domestic wolf) instead of Canis familiaris (the familiar or domestic dog). Although the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring is a tried-and-true criterion for recognizing that two populations are really variants of a single species, the reality is more nuanced. We cannot know whether dog-wolf hybrids will thrive and survive, or die out, in the long run.

Prehistoric cave paintings rarely depict wolves or other carnivores. This watercolor tracing of a cave painting was made by the archaeologist Abbé Henri Breuil in the early 1900s from the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume in France. The 17,000-year-old cave paintings number about 250 and mostly show bison and mammoths—only one is thought to be a wolf. Canids may have been domesticated by this point; it is possible that portraying wolves and humans was taboo.
Paul Bahn

Certainly we expect to be able to distinguish a dog from a wolf if we see one. Of course, domestic dogs are wildly variable in size and shape, thanks to several hundred years of selective breeding. Some have long, fluffy coats; others have tightly curled, nearly waterproof coats and webbed feet. Some are leggy and swift, whereas others are solid, stoutly built guard dogs. Some fit neatly into a pocketbook, but others barely fit into a compact car. As Robert K. Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles declares, “Dogs show more diversity in appearance than any other mammal.”

What is it that tells us this animal is “dog” and that one is “wolf?”

Modern wolves and dogs can be distinguished reasonably easily by their appearance. The most telling feature of dogs is the snout, which is significantly shorter and wider than wolves’ snouts. Only a few dog breeds with extremely elongated, slender snouts, such as Irish wolfhounds, surpass wolves in “snoutiness.”

But a crucial part of the difference we perceive is in the animals’ manner and attitude towards humans. Domesticated dogs are just that: canids that live in the house or domicile of humans. They are genetically disposed to seek out human attention and approval and to accept human leadership. Wolves are not.

How did this important change come about? Probably in the distant past, humans took in a wolf cub, or even a whole litter of cubs, and provided shelter, food and protection. As the adopted cubs matured, some were aggressive, ferocious and difficult to handle; those probably ended up in the pot or were cast out. The ones that were more accepting of and more agreeable to humans were kept around longer and fed more. In time, humans might have co-opted the natural abilities of canids, using the dogs’ keen noses and swift running skills, for example, to assist in hunting game. If only the most desirable dogs were permitted to breed, the genes encoding for “better” dogs would continue to be concentrated until the new domesticated species (or subspecies) was formed.

Time to Tame

The creation of a domestic, useful, familiar canid by years of selectively breeding wild and terrifying wolves was almost certainly unplanned. The wolf at the beginning of the process of domestication was tamed—made individually docile—but the essential fact is that, over time, the offspring of those initial wolves were genetically inclined to be more tractable.

Domestication was one of the most brilliant accidents in the entire history of humankind. What’s more, we got it right the first time: Dogs were the original trial animal, and successful product, of such an accident—the happy outcome of years of unwitting experiments and dumb luck.

How long does domestication take? Nobody knows. In an experiment, Russian biologists kept a breeding colony of silver foxes and intentionally selected for breeding those with the least fear and the least aggression toward humans. After 10 generations, 18 percent of the foxes sought human contact and showed little fear. After 30 or so generations, a “domesticated fox” had been created.

The catch is that this experiment was deliberate and strictly controlled. The foxes could not breed with wild foxes and dilute the changing gene pool. Human contact was minimized so animals could not be tamed by their handlers. And because of the experiment’s scientific intent, no one could say, “Oh this one is so cute, let’s let it breed even if it is a little aggressive.” So in the case of dogs, without all these controls, the process could have taken much longer.

Another way of estimating the time at which domestic dogs originated is to consider their genetic differences from wolves. One prominent group of researchers, including Robert Wayne, along with Carles Vilà of the Uppsala University in Sweden and their collaborators, initially estimated in 1997 that dogs diverged from gray wolves 100,000 to 135,000 years ago. After more study, they revised their divergence date to between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago. Another group, led by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, favored the Chinese wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, as the probable ancestor and estimated in 2002 that it was domesticated between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago.

How do these genetic estimates stack up against the fossil record? Until 2009, the oldest known remains of domestic dogs were two adult skulls dated to between 13,000 and 17,000 years ago, from Eliseevichi, a region in Russia. Both had the relatively broad, short snout typical of dogs, and both were large, heavy animals, nearly the size of great Danes.

Then a team led by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences reported a stunning new finding in the February 2009 issue of Journal of Archaeological Science: a nearly complete fossil dog skull dated to 31,680 + 250 years ago.

Another Look

Germonpré and her colleagues thought that researchers might have overlooked early prehistoric dogs in the fossil record of the Upper Paleolithic, so they analyzed skulls of large canids (wolves or dogs) from various European sites. The Upper Paleolithic time period spanned 40,000 to 10,000 years ago and is divided into sections based on the artifacts from those times. By convention, each span is named for a culture of people who made the artifacts, and the people, in turn, are usually named for the geographical location where the artifacts were found. The Epigravettian culture existed from 14,000 to 10,000 years ago; before that, the Magdalenian culture thrived from 18,000 to 10,000 years ago; and skipping back a few sections, the Aurignacian culture occurred from 32,000 to 26,000 years ago.

In order to identify the fossil skulls accurately, Germonpré’s team first analyzed a large reference sample of 48 wild, modern wolves and 53 dogs belonging to 11 different breeds. They also examined five skulls (including the ones found in Eliseevichi) that were firmly established as prehistoric domesticated dogs.

In order to establish the morphological differences between wolves and dogs, a group of researchers led by Mietje Germonpré statistically analyzed skulls from 48 modern, wild wolves and 53 modern dogs from 11 breeds, as well as five skulls that were previously established to be from prehistoric dogs. Recent wolves (pink) and prehistoric dogs (blue) clustered into their own groups, based on the length of their toothrows and the shape of their snouts. Modern dogs clustered into four groups, with some overlap in their areas. Recent dogs with archaic proportions included huskies (brown), recent dogs with wolflike snouts included German shepherds (yellow), recent dogs with short toothrows included great Danes (orange), and recent dogs with slender snouts included doberman pinscers (green). One modern dog, a Central Asian shepherd, clustered with the prehistoric dogs. The group then classified new skulls into the established groupings; examples that fell slightly outside of the ranges but that are statistically likely to be within the group are shown as lighter-shaded areas. Recent young wolves fell into the recent-wolf group, whereas wolves kept in captivity were classifed as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Fossil canid skulls divided between the recent-wolf group and the prehistoric-dog group, with one falling in the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts.
Stephanie Freese, data courtesy of Mietje Germonpré.

The team used statistical analysis of cranial and dental measurements on the skulls to sort the reference sample into six natural clusters. One cluster contained modern wolves. Another consisted of recent dogs of archaic proportions (such as chow-chows and huskies); a single specimen of a Central Asian shepherd was closer to this group than any other but fell outside it. A third cluster included dogs, such as German shepherds and malinois, which have wolflike proportions. These three groups overlapped each other in their cranial proportions. A fourth group of modern dogs has short toothrows—the length of the jaw that contains teeth—and includes such breeds as great Danes, mastiffs and rottweilers. This group overlapped slightly with the archaic-proportioned dog group but not with the others.

The fifth and sixth clusters were completely separate from all others. One consisted of dogs with extremely long, slender snouts, such as Doberman pinschers. The final group, which had long toothrows and short, broad snouts, was made up of the prehistoric dogs. Statistically, the team’s ability to identify any individual specimen as belonging to the correct group was highly significant and accurate.

Using these clusters as reference categories, Germonpré and colleagues used a statistical technique (called discriminant function analysis ) to assign 17 unknown fossil canid skulls to the established categories. Not all of the “unknowns” were truly unknown, however. Five were immature modern wolves that might have had different proportions because of their age, two were wolves that had been kept in captivity, and one was the Central Asian shepherd that didn’t cluster into any of the groups. Additional unknowns were 11 fossil skulls from sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia, although two of these fossil skulls proved to be too incomplete to classify.

The technique correctly classified all of the immature wolves as wolves, but the two zoo wolves were classified as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Five of the fossil skulls also fell easily into the modern wolf group; although two of these specimens fell into the region of measurements that overlapped with the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, they had a higher statistical probability of being wolves. One fossil skull fit directly into the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, even though this specimen was clearly ancient.

The remaining three fossil skulls—one from Goyet Cave in Belgium and one each from Mezin and Mezhirich in the Ukraine—resembled each other closely. All three were classified as prehistoric dogs with probabilities of 99 percent, 73 percent and 57 percent, respectively, as was the (modern) Central Asian shepherd, with a 64 percent probability. In addition, the Mezin skull was odd enough in appearance (for a wolf) that another researcher has suggested it might have been a captive wolf. Germonpré and her team were delighted with these results.

The group also successfully extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from seven ancient canid bones from Goyet Cave and Trou des Nutons in Belgium. Rather than damage precious skulls, they sampled only bones in which wolves and dogs differ little, so they presumed all of those they sampled for mtDNA were wolves. From each sample, they sequenced a segment of the mtDNA that is highly variable in living wolves and dogs. Each fossil had a unique mtDNA sequence, or haplotype , in this region, which could not be matched with any known sequences for modern wolves (of which there are about 160) or modern dogs (of which more than 1,000 exist) stored in GenBank, a database of all publicly available nucleotide sequences.

“I was not so surprised at the rich genetic diversity of the fossil wolves,” says Germonpré, because there have been other studies with similar findings. Foxes and wolves underwent a severe bottleneck in population size at the end of the last Ice Age, and many genetic lineages went extinct at this time.

“But we were surprised at the antiquity of the Goyet dog,” Germonpré adds. “We expected it would probably be Magdalenian,” perhaps 18,000 to 10,000 years old. This outcome would fit with their results for the Mezin and Mezhirich skulls, which were found with Epigravettian artifacts roughly 14,000 to 10,000 years old. When the age of this specimen from Goyet was directly dated using accelerated mass spectroscopy radiocarbon-dating techniques, the team found that it was not 18,000 years old, but almost twice as old as the next oldest dog, placing the Goyet dog in the Aurignacian period.

A Time of Change

The Goyet dog fossil shows that the domestication of the first animal was roughly contemporaneous with two fascinating developments in Europe.

Around this time, Europeans began producing objects that are recognizable as art. Some of the earliest known art objects from Europe include the remarkable cave paintings of Chauvet Cave in France, the oldest of which were made 32,900 ± 490 years ago. None of the hundreds of glorious Chauvet paintings show wolves. However, the cave preserves something even more haunting: the footprints of a human child about four-and-a-half feet tall, as well as many footprints of large canids and bears.

Around 33,000 years ago, humans began perforating teeth for use in decoration. Although canid teeth made up a very small percentage of the total fauna teeth available, they were used in a majority of the ornaments. Fangs from foxes and wolves appear to have been favorites. One example of a perforated wolf tooth (shown in two views at right) is from Abri Castanet in France and has been dated to 33,000 years ago. A strand of beads interspersed with fox teeth came from the Russian site of Sungir and has been dated to 24,000 years ago (left). There is no specific evidence that canid teeth were used in necklaces; the fox-teeth strand may have been a belt.
Randall White

Michel-Alain Garcia of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nanterre noticed in 1999 that one track of canid prints appears to accompany the child’s prints. These canid prints, unlike the others, have a shortened middle digit on the front paw: a characteristic of dogs. Garcia suggested that the child and dog might have explored the cave together. Charcoal from a torch the child carried is 26,000 years old.

The Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe are famous for the flowering of all kinds of exquisite art: sculptures, carvings, paintings and engravings. Animals are common and readily recognizable subjects. Prehistoric art expert Paul Bahn notes that depictions of carnivores, including wolves or dogs, and of humans are rare. Bahn conjectures that portraying wolves and humans might have been taboo.

Anne Pike-Tay of Vassar College offers another perspective. She observes that the scarcity of artistic depictions of carnivores parallels their scarcity in the fossil faunas of the Upper Paleolithic. If domesticated dogs were helping humans hunt, she speculates that they might have been placed in a completely different symbolic category from other animals.

“What if dogs were put in the ‘human family’ category as an extension of the hunter, and like humans, warranted no (or very few) painted or engraved depictions?” she wonders.

The second development of the Aurignacian period is the appearance of objects of personal adornment: jewelry. Although beads and perforated objects occurred much earlier in Africa, the earliest such objects in Europe appeared about 40,000 years ago. At 33,000 years ago, early Aurignacian people began perforating animal teeth (and occasionally human teeth) to wear as pendants or other ornaments, such as belts.

Which teeth did they choose? Among their favorite sources are what have been identified as fangs of foxes and wolves. These identifications might better be termed “small or large canids,” because until now no one has considered the possibility that dogs might have been domesticated so long ago. Besides, identifying a single canid tooth specifically as dog or wolf would be difficult, if not impossible.

Randall White of New York University argues that Aurignacian and later people chose to wear objects that displayed their identity or membership in a certain group or clan. Like gang colors or a t-shirt that proclaims its wearer to be a fan of a particular band, ancient people wore things that made their allegiances clear.

Fossils have helped to establish a far earlier timeframe for dog domestication. A paleolithic canid skull from Goyet in Belgium, about 31,000 years old, has traits characteristic of a dog rather than a wolf (a). When compared to wolves from a similar era, one from Trou Ballu (b) and one from Trou des Nutons (c) in France, the Goyet dog has a relatively wider snout and larger carnassial teeth, and it also has a wider braincase.
Elsevier Ltd.

White observes that the teeth Aurignacian people chose to wear were obviously not a random sample of the animals in the fauna. For example, the fauna from the Grotte des Hyènes (Cave of Hyenas) at Brassempouy, France, is dominated by horses, aurochs (a type of cattle) and reindeer—mostly as food remains that often show cutmarks or charring—as well as hyenas, which probably lived in the cave when humans did not. Wolves are rare, making up less than 3 percent of the total fauna. Of approximately 1,600 animal teeth at Brassempouy, only about 2 percent were modified for use as ornaments. However, nearly two-thirds of the ornaments are teeth of wolves or foxes. The rest of the perforated teeth are from other rare species: bear, humans and red deer. None of the teeth of the most common species were used as ornaments at Brassempouy.

Did someone who wore a perforated canid tooth 33,000 years ago proclaim him- or herself to be one of the group that domesticated dogs?

Possibly. Domesticating dogs was a remarkable human achievement that doubtless provided a definite selective advantage to those who accomplished it successfully. They might well have had reason to brag about their accomplishment by wearing canid teeth.


  • Germonpré, M., et al. 2009. Fossil dogs and wolves from Paleolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: Osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:473–490.
  • Morey, D. F. 1994. The early evolution of the domestic dog. American Scientist 82:336–347.
  • Ostrander, E. A. 2007. Genetics and the shape of dogs. American Scientist 95:406–413.
  • Savolainen, P., et al. 2002. Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs. Science 298:1610–1613.
  • Trut, L. N. 1999. Early canid domestication: The farm-fox experiment. American Scientist 87:160–169.
  • Vilà, C., et al. 1997. Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science 276:1687–1689.

© Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society


What a beautiful relationship between dog and man for rather a long time!

Written by Paul Handover

June 4, 2015 at 00:00

Factory farming.

with 7 comments

 We truly reap what we sow!

Yesterday, I wrote about what I saw as a prelude to today’s post. It was a post about the madness of the way we ingest antibiotics, frequently without us being aware that we are so doing.

The reason I regarded it as a very appropriate prelude to today is fully spelt out by George Monbiot’s second essay on the utter insanity about how our food is grown. His first essay was called Fowl Deeds and you may read it here.

So with no further ado, here is George Monbiot’s second essay republished with his kind permission.


The Abuses of Enchantment

29th May 2015

The cruelties of factory farming shelter behind a fairytale image, promoted by advertisers and children’s authors.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website 29th May 2015

The way that meat, eggs and milk are produced is surrounded by one of our great silences, in which most people collaborate. We don’t want to know, because knowing would force anyone with a capacity for empathy to change their diet.

You break this silence at your peril. After I published an article on chicken farming last week, I had to re-read it to check that I hadn’t actually proposed the slaughter of the firstborn by terrorist devil worshippers – so outraged and vicious were some of the responses. And that was just the consumers.

The producers didn’t like it much either, though their trade associations responded in more measured tones. In letters to the Guardian on Saturday, the National Farmers’ Union and the British Poultry Council angrily defended the industry. The NFU wrote:

“In the UK 90% of all chicken is produced to Red Tractor standards and this demonstrates that the chicken has met production standards developed by experts on animal welfare, safety, hygiene and the environment. Farmers take the welfare of their birds extremely seriously, and therefore to accuse the sector of cruelty is absolutely unfounded.”

The BPC maintained that chicken “provides a wholesome, nutritious, sustainable and affordable source of protein, produced by an industry unsubsidised by government.”

Let’s spend a moment examining these claims, before raising the issue of how they get away with it.

In my view, the Red Tractor standard is a classic example of an almost meaningless label, whose purpose is to reassure customers in a vague and fuzzy way while holding producers to standards that scarcely rise above the legal minimum. That’s a long-winded way of saying bullshit.

Take the key welfare issue, stocking density. Here’s what the government recommendations say:

The maximum stocking density for chickens kept to produce meat for the table should be 34 kg/m2, which should not be exceeded at any time during the growing period.

But the standard for broiler chickens set by the Red Tractor scheme is actually worse than this:

“Planned stocking densities must not exceed 38kg/m2 for broilers”

Incidentally, this stocking density – 38kg/m2 – gives each bird an area the size of a piece of A4 paper. [Ed. 8.27 in X 11.69 in]

This meets the legal requirement only because the UK uses a cruel derogation from European law, permitting a maximum stocking density of 39kg/m2. [Ed. American units convert that to 74.8 lbs of chicken mass per square yard.] So much for the NFU’s statement about taking the welfare of chickens extremely seriously.

On almost every welfare indicator, and across all the main farm animals, including chickens, Red Tractor scored worse than any other certification scheme evaluated by Compassion in World Farming. Amazingly, the Red Tractor label imposes no restrictions on the growth rates of chickens: it allows the most overbred varieties to be stuffed with high-protein feed, with the result that the birds often suffer from painful and crippling health problems, as their hearts, lungs and legs are overloaded.

As for the British Poultry Council’s claims, if chickens fed on soya – as the great majority in this country are – are sustainable, what does unsustainable look like? Soya production is one of the major agents of the destruction of rainforests, cerrado and other threatened habitats in South America. The environmental impacts of chickenfeed are, well, anything but chickenfeed. The mass production of chickens has major consequences at the other end of the bird too: the mountains of excrement cause both water and air pollution.

Nor is the claim that this industry is unsubsidised correct. Many chicken growers barely break even on the sale of birds, and survive only as a result of the government’s renewable heat incentive. This is a remarkably generous scheme whose ostensible purpose is to reduce carbon emissions, but which really functions as another subsidy for businesses, especially farms. Most new chicken units use biomass boilers subsidised by the RHI, and it is immensely profitable.

So now to the real question: how do they get away with it? How is it that we, who regard ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, accept such terrible standards of meat production? If dogs and cats were treated as pigs and chickens are, there would be a deafening outcry: in fact there are plenty of people in Britain who campaign against the raising of dogs and cats for food in Asia. But what’s the difference? Why is it acceptable to treat some animals – even creatures as intelligent and capable of suffering as pigs – so brutally, but not others?

In part, this reflects the deep disavowal in which we tend to engage when we eat meat. But I also believe that a major part of the problem is the fairytale view of farming implanted in our minds from the very onset of consciousness.

Many of the books produced for very young children are about farms; and most tell broadly the same story. The animals – generally just one or two of each species – live in perfect harmony with the rosy-cheeked farmer, roaming around freely and talking to each other, almost as if they were members of the farmer’s family. Understandably enough, none of the uncomfortable issues – slaughter, butchery, castration, tusking, separation, battery production, farrowing crates – ever feature.

So deeply embedded is this image that I believe many people go through life unable to dismiss it from their minds. It is not easy to unlearn what we are taught when we’re very young, and even the grim realities of industrial farming cannot displace the storybook images from our minds. At a deep, subconscious level, the farm remains a place of harmony and kindness – and this suits us very well if we want to keep eating meat.

Perhaps the starkest example of this myth-making I’ve come across is a children’s book distributed with Saturday’s Guardian called The Tale of City Sue. It tells the story of a herd of cows on an Irish farm.

“This friendly, Friesian family

were free to roam and browse

and eat the freshest, greenest grass

which made them happy cows.

“They belonged to farmer Finn

Who called them by their names

And when it was their birthday

He brought party hats and games.

“He played his violin for them

inside the milking shed,

and sung them soothing lullabies

when it was time for bed.”

Only after I had unthinkingly read it to my three-year-old then turned the back cover, did I discover that it wasn’t a book at all, but an extended advertisement for Kerrygold butter.

It wasn’t billed as such. The Guardian’s website marketed this publication as “A tale from the meadow of imagination: children’s author Jeanne Willis’s latest book captures the idyllic atmosphere of rural Ireland.” Following my questions to the Guardian, this has now been changed to make its provenance clearer.

I find disguised marketing of any kind objectionable, and disguised marketing to children (aimed in this case at reaching their parents) even worse. I feel that this book misleads children about the nature of farming and milk production and sanitises the relationship between farmers and their animals, on behalf of a large corporation (Kerrygold’s parent company, Adams Foods). It exploits children’s credulity and natural sympathy with animals for corporate profits.

When I challenged the Guardian about this, its spokesperson told me:

“All branded content should be clearly labelled for the benefit of our readers in line with our guidelines. On this occasion the insert was not correctly labelled and we apologise for this error.”

I also wrote to the author, Jeanne Willis, who replied as follows: “I was commissioned by Kerrygold so it’s best they answer your questions. Xxxx Xxxx from Brazen PR will be in touch soon.”

Brazen PR. Hmmm.

I wrote back, asking her, “Do children’s authors not have a responsibility towards those they write for? Is there not an issue of conscience here for you? After all, if a children’s author is misleading children on behalf of a corporation, that’s a serious matter, surely? It has been done in your name, and promoted as your “latest book”, so simply shrugging off responsibility like this feels wrong to me. You must have a view about whether or not accepting this commission was the right thing to do, and whether you were justified in discharging it as you did.”

She responded as follows:

“… to the best of my knowledge, Kerrygold seem to be particularly strong on animal welfare so there wasn’t a question that what I created was going to be misleading. The brief was very simple: Kerrygold cows spend a lot of time outside feeding on grassy meadows so let’s tell some fun stories about our cows. I don’t feel it’s exploiting kids because the only take out is that it’s better to feed cows on grass and ensure they spend as much time outside as possible.”

“I’m very careful which brands I work with to avoid this exact situation – I wouldn’t have done this if I thought it was morally wrong. It’s a storybook for families to enjoy. There is no overt message to buy butter. It’s just about the cows. That said, it clearly says Kerrygold on the inside cover and on the back.”

It seems to me that subliminal persuasion of this kind (“the cows are happy”) can be more insidious than overt marketing (“buy our butter”). To my mind, Kerrygold is seeking to persuade people of the inherent goodness of its products at a deeper level than merely flashing up the products.

As for the issue of animal welfare, Kerrygold’s website states “We work with small co-operative farms where small herds are free to graze on lush Irish meadows.” But it does not say “We work only with small co-operative farms …”.

The parent website run by Adams puts it slightly differently: “Kerrygold is … is owned by Irish dairy farmers, many of their farms are small and family run”. Which could also mean that many of them are not. So I asked the company, “What is your milk buying policy? In other words, what specifications – on scale, feed, the treatment of animals, process etc – do you put in place that your suppliers have to adhere to?” I have not had a response.

From what I can glean, Kerrygold’s marketing seems to rely on the public perception that Irish dairy farms are small and mostly grass-fed. But they are changing fast.

Last summer, 3,000 dairy farmers visited the biggest dairy operation in the country (which has 820 milking animals) to discover how to increase the scale of their operations. This farm has made a major investment in indoor facilities, and supplements the grass they are fed with maize, barley and soya.

According to the former chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association, “scale must go up. … The dairy farm of the future is going to have to be bigger.”

Could the current Kerrygold marketing blitz be an attempt to embed in our minds a bucolic, superannuated image of an industry that is now changing beyond recognition? If so, it might be an effective way of pre-empting criticism about the changing nature of its suppliers.

Dairy cows, like chickens and pigs, get a rough deal, while the effluent from dairy farms creates major environmental problems. Imagine the response if children were exposed to such blatant sanitisation of a harsh and polluting industry in any other sector. But so prevalent is this mythologised view of farming, and so wilfully unaware do we remain of the realities of industrial agriculture, that it passes almost without challenge. My guess is that the Guardian made this error – a serious one in my view – partly because the themes Jeanne Willis and Kerrygold exploited are so familiar that they are almost background noise.

Isn’t it time that children’s authors showed a little more imagination and stopped repeatedly churning out the same basic story, even when they are not doing it on behalf of a large corporation?

Is it not time that adults weaned themselves off the fairytale version of farming and began to judge it by the same standards as we would judge other industries?

And is it not time for all of us to become a little more curious about where meat, milk and eggs come from, and how they are produced?



 Now I haven’t been a resident of the United Kingdom since 2008 so I have no personal views to add to those expressed by Mr. Monbiot. However, I do not have the slightest hesitation in saying that not only do I trust George Monbiot’s integrity in this matter but I fear that the situation here in the USA is just as terrible, if not worse.

I thought I would close today’s post by offering some pictures of broiler chicken units.  There are many images on the ‘net’.

But they were so ghastly to view that I didn’t have the heart to include a picture.

So I included this one:


The picture was on the website of Mini Mac Farm in Long Valley, NJ.

A future apocalypse?

with 6 comments

How many of us really, truly care about the future?

If you sense a heartfelt plea in my sub-heading then you will not be wrong.

What has happened to our instincts for our survival?

What strikes me as so tragic is that if I asked you to guess the topic of today’s post before you read on, the odds are that you would chose from any number of subjects that reveal a society hell-bent on self-extinction!

OK, let me get to the point.

A little over 10 days ago I republished a George Monbiot essay that spoke about the madness of chicken production in the UK. Mr. Monbiot’s essay was called Fowl Deeds and was within my post called We are what we eat!

Well George Monbiot has just published a sequel to Fowl Deeds that I am going to republish in this place tomorrow.

But what I am going to offer for today, as a prelude to tomorrow’s post, is a YouTube video of a BBC Panorama program that was screened earlier on in May. The program was called Antibiotic Apocalypse and was about the threat of increasing resistance to modern Antibiotics.

Why does this make such an important prelude?

Because as you will see when you watch the Panorama program much of our ‘factory’ food comes from animals that are fed antibiotics!

How to close?

All that comes to mind is a wonderful throwaway remark from a old boy, village resident, when supping a pint of bitter in The Church House Inn; what used to be my local pub in my home village of Harberton, Devon.  This is what he said:

All the world’s a little queer except thee and me, and I ha’ me doubts about thee!


Interior of The Church House Inn, Harberton, Devon.

Indeed, all the world is more than a ‘little queer’!

Saturday serendipity

with 8 comments

Facing up to our challenges often inspires new beginnings.

I subscribe to Val Boyco’s blog Find Your Middle Ground (and love it!).

Last Thursday, Val published a beautiful poem that she, in turn, had seen over on Mindfulbalance, a blog that I hadn’t come across but suspect that I am going to like.


Originally posted on Mindfulbalance:


It may be that

when we no longer know

what to do,

we have come

to our real work,

and when we

no longer know

which way to go,

we have begun

our real journey

Wendell Berry, The Real Work


Going to close today’s post by repeating something that is in a little book that I have had for years: Extracts from Peace In Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh originally published by Bantam Books.


There is a word in Buddhism that means “witlessness” or “aimlessness”. The idea is that you do not put something in front of you and run after it, because everything is already here, in yourself.

While we practice walking meditation, we do not try to arrive anywhere. We only make peaceful, happy steps.

By taking good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future.

You all have a wonderful present moment!

Written by Paul Handover

May 30, 2015 at 00:00

The rights that animals deserve.

with 3 comments

The compelling reasons for the rights of animals.

I opened the week last Monday by publishing a post under the title of Beyond humans. That post included me writing about Michael Mountain’s talk at the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University.  That talk, that may be listened to in that post, was described in the following abstract:

Abstract: The past 50 years have seen enormous growth in the animal protection movement. But the situation for nonhuman animals in every sphere, with the exception of homeless pets, continues to deteriorate. Any small advances remain incremental. Animal rights and welfare groups find themselves at a loss to explain their inability to influence the general public. But the work of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) and of psychologists in the field of Terror Management Theory (TMT) offer essential insight.

In this talk, we discuss how our need, as humans, to proclaim that “I am not an animal!” and to deny personhood to other animals affects our relationship with them at a fundamental level. We argue that to be effective, the animal protection movement needs to understand TMT and take it into account. And we conclude that a new kind of relationship to the world of nature in the 21st Century is not only essential to the mitigation of the catastrophic effects of the Sixth Great Extinction, but that it also holds the key to Becker’s still-unanswered question of how we can begin to relate positively to our own terror of personal mortality — and therefore our own future as a species.

Thus I want to close the week by reinforcing Michael Mountain’s message by using an article published yesterday over at Mother Nature Network.


Many Americans support equal rights for animals

Animal rights cases and films like ‘Blackfish’ are credited with influencing public opinion.

By: Tanya Lewis, LiveScience
Tue, May 26, 2015 at 11:08 AM

About 33 percent of people said they were 'very concerned' about the use of animals in research, and 21 percent were very concerned about zoo animals. (Photo: Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock)

About 33 percent of people said they were ‘very concerned’ about the use of animals in research, and 21 percent were very concerned about zoo animals. (Photo: Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock)

Nearly one-third of Americans believe animals should have the same rights as people, a recent poll finds.

Thirty-two percent of the people surveyed believe animals and humans should have equal rights, up from 25 percent in 2008. Another 62 percent believe animals deserve some protection from harm and exploitation, but it is “still appropriate to use them for the benefit of humans.” Only 3 percent believe animals don’t require protection from harm and exploitation “since they are just animals,” according to the poll.

Gallup interviewed a random sample of more than 1,000 people across the United States on May 6 to 10, 2015. About half of those surveyed were asked about the protection of animals, while the other half were surveyed about the treatment of animals in various settings. The poll’s margin of sampling error was 5 percentage points. [The 5 Smartest Non-Primates on the Planet]

Across all demographic groups, an increasing fraction of people support equal rights for animals, although women were more likely than men to have this view, the poll found. About 42 percent of the women polled supported full animal equality in 2015, compared with 22 percent of men. However, the percentage of men and women who support this view has increased by about the same amount since 2008 — from 35 percent to 42 percent for women, and 14 percent to 22 percent for men.

In addition, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were more likely than their Republican counterparts to support complete animal equality. About 39 percent of liberal-leaning people supported that view this year, compared with 23 percent of conservative-leaning people. But the number of both Democrats and Republicans who support animal equality has increased since the last poll, according to Gallup.

The poll found little difference between the views of younger and older Americans.

Gallup also asked Americans how they felt about the treatment of animals in different settings. About 33 percent of people said they were “very concerned” about the use of animals in research, compared with 21 percent who were very concerned about zoo animals. About two-thirds of people said they were “very or somewhat” concerned about animals in the circus; in competitive animal sports or contests; or in research. About 46 percent of people said they were very or somewhat concerned about the treatment of household pets.

The increasing concern for animals can be seen, for example, in the recent court case where animal-rights advocates sought personhood for chimpanzees. The Nonhuman Rights Project has argued for a writ of habeas corpus — a court order to prevent unreasonable detention — to free a pet chimpanzee named Tommy being kept in a cage in upstate New York.

Meanwhile, views on the treatment of marine or farm animals may have been influenced by popular documentaries such as “Blackfish” and “Food, Inc.,” which sought to expose truths about the treatment of whales at SeaWorld and of farm animals raised for consumption, respectively.

Concerns about the treatment of pets may reflect campaigns to stop cruelty toward these animals by organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. This story was originally written for LiveScience and was republished with permission here. Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved.


The MMN article above included a number of links; too many on balance for me to insert in this republication.

So I recommend strongly that if this article strikes a chord of interest with you that you go to this place and check out all the many links.


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