Welcome!

Beloved Pharaoh. Born: June 3rd., 2003 – Died: June 19th., 2017. A very special dog that will never be forgotten.

Dogs live in the present – they just are!  Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value.  Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years.  That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer.  Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming,  thence the long journey to modern man.  But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite.  Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better!  Time again for man to learn from dogs!

Welcome to Learning from Dogs

Part Two of the Spitfire and dogs!

To be honest this is more about the Spitfire! The Spitfire SX336.

Raymond was working on the design of his dog tags and to nail stuff about the way to make them, the material thickness, how to work with it (2MM thick brass) and how to stop them failing, when he turned to a contact he had who is a Spitfire Engineer. At that point Ian, the contact, was up the road from Hertfordshire at The Shuttleworth Collection, getting AR501 back in the air.

However, mid-2019 he moved across the airfield to Kennet Aviation. That’s the home of Spitfire XVII.

At that point Raymond was still pestering for help with a fair few aspects of the manufacturing, from working with the five-ton fly-press that was recommended (from a closed aircraft factory south of Birmingham) to using high-speed polishing tools, but – above all – the position of the hole in relation to the edge of the tag, which is the same distance rivets are from the edge of the wing in a Spitfire. 

In return, Raymond offered to build a few websites, one for Kennet Engineering and one for Kennet Aviation. Both the same company really, the Engineering one to try and get more work for a few huge and expensive CNC machines they’ve recently acquired to make spitfire parts they couldn’t get hold of. 

Anyway, it was when researching regarding the Spitfire that he, Raymond, came across my Spitfire content and obviously noticed the title of the website he was looking at: LearningFromDogs.com, saw I had a tremendous-looking book and thought ‘hang on a minute!’ this is all too much of a coincidence, he must say hello AND introduce me (Paul) to the SX336.

So Raymond finally said ‘hello’ and let me know there is indeed another Spitfire still flying somewhere in the world.

Here is an extract from that Shuttleworth website:

At approximately 3pm on Tuesday 25 April 2017 The Shuttleworth Collection’s Spitfire under restoration fired into life for the first time in 12 years.

A first stage engine run took place on the airfield with volunteers who have been working on the project watching with fingers crossed. The Spitfire has recently been fitted with new propeller and spinner, with testing on all systems from hydraulics, electrical, coolant and air being undertaken in the engineer workshop where visitors have been able to follow the project’s progress.

Project engineer Ian Laraman expressed his relief that all had gone to plan, saying, “With any engine being tested for the first time you always hope it will run smoothly, and happily today the Spitfire’s first engine run couldn’t have gone any better. Higher power runs will now follow, which will give us a better indication of how close we are to flight testing, but for now hearing this aircraft powered up again after all the work that’s gone into it has just been fantastic!”

The coolant systems will now be flushed out, and checks carried out on the oil filters in advance of further testing of the Spitfire’s 1,440hp Rolls Royce Merlin V12 engine in the next fortnight. To follow the progress of AR501 as it moves toward the end of its restoration come along to see the aircraft in the engineering hangar or follow The Collection’s Facebook and Twitter pages!

Here is a photograph of Spitfire SX336 from the Kennet Aircraft Collection website.

Seafire FXVII, SX336, G-KASX, acquired in 2001 and put on the Civil Register by Kennet Aviation in 2006.

A real blast from the past!

I will finish the post be repeating the photograph that Raymond took at the Eastbourne Air Show.

Lulu loved an air show, going to several with us over the years. Here she is at Eastbourne air show, enjoying the Lancaster Bomber and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. 

The Seafire Spitfire and dogs!

Ray offers us a guest post.

As can happen from time to time, I was contacted by Ray Dunthorne in England. He very kindly said that he had been following Learning from Dogs for a while and also was aware of my previous interest in flying.

So I emailed Ray saying that I would love to publish his account as a guest post and lo and behold in came the following story.

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The Story of Lulu

Ah hello again, I’ll try ever so hard not to give you my full life story, but just stuff you might find interesting and relevant, but can’t promise to get the balance right! 

Willows Activity Farm St Albans 

My adult dog journey began with Lulu, 15 years ago, but the seed was sown some 5 years earlier at a city farm. We’d gone with the then middle-born five-year-old for his birthday party. The shepherd who did herding demonstrations was over from New Zealand and had two dogs who’d just had a litter of puppies, which we were shown. We’d never heard of the New Zealand Huntaway, it was described as a combination of German Shepherd, Border Collie and Labrador, with a few other breeds thrown in for good measure. 

They’d been consistently bred in, yes, you guessed it, New Zealand for over 100 years, specifically to help move large herds of sheep or cattle over long distances. The agile New Zealand Huntaway became known for its ability to move across packed, penned herds by leaping from the back of one sheep to another. Its loud LOUD bark was also required, as if not busy barking to get cattle or sheep moving, the Huntaway would be sent after a sheep or lamb that had strayed out of sight, hold it down (I don’t know how) and BARK so the shepherd could locate the unruly pair. 

Little thought was given to the New Zealand Huntaway for a few years, when – on the other side of divorce – my then ex-wife and I decided to get a dog to raise collaboratively, to keep the disparate family united in some way. Divorce-wise, it wasn’t so amicable initially, as these things usually aren’t, but soon settled down with the three growing boys being the priority. 

Lime End Farm, Sussex

Of course we couldn’t agree on the type of dog. I’d always wanted a German Shepherd, madame a Border Collie and a Labrador was a popular choice with Stanley, Arthur and Sidney (the aforementioned three boys). I bet you can tell where this is going. Yes, I remembered the New Zealand Huntaway. In 2006, it was a lot harder to find a litter in the UK than it is now, but I did. Down on a farm in Sussex. Lulu’s mum and dad were also over from New Zealand with a shepherd, this one herding cattle at Lime End Dairy Farm. 

Lime End is in Herstmonceux, East Sussex, which is as Olde English countryside as it sounds, with a castle and an annual Medieval festival to complete the picture.

As soon as we arrived in the classic farm yard, all the puppies bumbled out to say hello, emerging three at a time from under an old caravan where they’d been sheltering from the sun. Their dad, Lord Toro was tied to a nearby barn, doing some general barking ‘he’s frightened of the puppies’ the lady told us. The nine puppies all toppled about us for a few minutes, then all rushed off to find dinner. All except one.

Eight week old Lulu came back with me, Sidney and Helen, my new girlfriend at the time, who I’d charmingly had to borrow the £300 needed to secure Lulu from. It was a four or five hour round trip for the three of us, four including Lulu. A bonding opportunity all round.

I always remember that – to add to the idyllic Sussex farm scene, as if it wasn’t enough like a scene from a film Hugh Grant drives a Mini in – just as we were leaving, an old barn door got pushed open from the inside and a litter of Border Collie puppies and their mum and dad ran out, to say hello to the remaining Huntaways and good bye to us.

Best Laid Plans

The wisdom of bringing that hard-working herding dog into two separate St Albans houses didn’t cross my mind. It probably should have, especially as my ‘house’ was a rented Maisonette, no dogs aloud. The theory was Lulu would be at the children’s house in the week, mine along with the children at the weekends. It didn’t turn out like that.

After a few months both me and my ex-wife got short contracts that meant heading off to work in an office for the day. Far from ideal, but no money at that point meant no choice. At least it was only temporary. Lulu would have been about six months old by then and absolutely should not have been left alone FOR A SECOND.

The office was just 15 minutes away (PC World, Maylands, Hemel Hempstead). I did manage to pop back at lunchtime most days and a child would pop round a few hours later after school. New Zealand Huntaways are like any puppy only more so. They need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, or else you will pay.

A novice dog guardian then, I learned everything the hard way. Before her first birthday, Lulu had removed the floor covering in the kitchen and the lounge. She’d moved a large old cathode ray TV across the room, knocked bookshelves over and generally done over £1,000 of damage. I know it was that much because I got a bill from the landlord. I paid. 

What dogs do

I will cut to the end here. That was in the first year of Lulu’s life.

The contract I mentioned was my first proper BIG company for the digital stuff I was doing, without it I wouldn’t have been able to have the career I’ve had, which started late as I accidentally tried to be a musician for ten years. Not too successfully. That doesn’t matter though.

The 14 years has gone by and even Sidney, who was about five years old when he came with us to East Sussex to meet Lulu, has gone off to university, the older two long-since moved away, to Nottingham and London respectively, leaving me, Lulu and my Helen, that new girlfriend who’d come to Sussex with us on that early date, who moved in a year or so later and is still here. 

What Lulu did was tie us all together. Yes, she was a nightmare initially. Yes, she would run away, out of sight chasing imaginary deer, for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. Yes, she’d bark at everything, constantly herding the children when they were small, stopping them from fighting among each other as they got bigger, becoming more and more generally in control and charming with each year. Almost without us noticing. All of a sudden, she was one of us. Not a pet, not a ‘furry friend’, not even a dog really.

She could sense when someone was ill or in distress and would attend accordingly. She loved small children and even when in a fierce mood, if a small child the same size as her approached, she would sit down and raise her head waiting for a pair of tiny arms to be thrown around her. It had all just got normal for us. Pretty much every time when we were out with her, she’d do something that would further add to our respect for her understanding of what’s going on. She WAS one of us. 

Lulu loved an air show, going to several with us over the years. Here she is at Eastbourne air show, enjoying the Lancaster Bomber and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. 

Now it’s all gone

It’s only when Lulu was finally gone I noticed everything else that’s passed too. All that time, pretty much my entire career, moving from acrimoniously divorced to getting along just fine and concentrating on giving the three boys as good a start as we could manage.  The three boys no longer the children they were when Lulu was working out her role in the family, now all long-since scarpered and working harder than I ever have. 

My career is pretty much done too. I’m finding it harder to get new contracts or jobs in digital. ‘What are you doing working in digital? I thought that was a young man’s game’ one marketing director interviewing me for a dull digital role I didn’t want tactfully said, almost ten years ago too. I won’t say where, for reasons of professional discretion (David Lloyd Leisure, Hatfield, Monday 4th March 2013)

When I was working from home and madame, who I now call Mrs Tagmaster, was coming home from London, me and Lulu would go and pick her up. I trained Lulu to sit in the middle of the station and wait for Mrs Tagmaster for as long as 10 minutes, which meant several packed commuter trains unloaded past her. I’d hide out of sight, watching to see how many pats on the head she got. Usually several.

Lulu’s Legacy is Ten Year Tags

Phew, we’re getting up to date at last. Lulu lost dog name tags like it was something she was born to do. Sometimes in a few months, sometimes in a few days. We got through dozens. I’m a bit slow on the uptake, it took me a while to work out the dog name tags on the market just might not be up to the job.

It took about a year of fact-finding, market assessment and trying to work out how to make a better dog name tag before I was ready to start planning the equipment we needed. Having wasted months liaising with companies in China to get the tags made in volume, I gave up on that idea to both keep our carbon footprint down AND have more control over any supply chain and not have to worry about any one critical supplier. 

With over 9 million dogs in the UK alone, there’s a good sized market. Research quickly revealed this ubiquitous, low price point product has largely been ignored, especially digitally. Consequently many competitors are getting away with minimal product quality and poor customer experience (I’ll come back to this).  This surprised me, as not many products pretty much anyone can manufacture are actually required by law in the UK courtesy of a stupidly out of date Dog Tag Law

I pretty much, at least subliminally, thank Lulu for every tag I press out and when it’s a busy day that started at 6 am and is only drawing to a close with a 6pm trip to the sorting office with a sack of 50 or more orders, I’m ever so grateful to Lulu, as without her showing us the flaws in all those substandard products over the years, patiently waiting until Raymond here got the hint, we probably wouldn’t be coping at all right now. Lulu is still looking after us.

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Thank you, Ray.

This is such a delightful story. So much so that I am going to post another story for Saturday. Namely, a short article, broadly written by Ray, and featuring the Spitfire.

Ray’s company Ten Year Tags is linked to Ray’s website.

Freshpet Dog Food Recall

Another alert from the Dog Food Advisor

It is shared with you all exactly as it came in to me.

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Freshpet Dog Food Recall

June 13, 2021 — Freshpet Inc. of Secaucus, New Jersey, is recalling a single lot of Freshpet Dog Food due to potential contamination with Salmonella bacteria

What’s Recalled?

The following defective dog food is being recalled:

  • Freshpet Select Small Dog Bite Size Beef and Egg Recipe
  • Package size: 1 pound bags
  • Sell by date: 10/30/2021

Sell by date, along with UPC code and lot code, can be found on the bottom and back of each bag. Product images are posted below.

No other Freshpet products or lot codes are impacted by this recall.

What Caused the Recall?

Workers at Freshpet discovered a single lot of dog food that was contaminated with Salmonella bacteria… and had designated it for destruction.

However, the contaminated product was accidentally shipped to retailers in limited geographic markets between June 7 to June 10, 2021.

Where Was the Product Sold?

The recalled products may have been sold at: Publix in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. It was also distributed at limited Target locations in Arizona and Southern California.

Most of the product was intercepted at retailer distribution warehouses and not delivered to retail stores.

According to the company, “Freshpet has received no reports of illness, injury, or adverse reaction to date, and has issued this recall because of our deep commitment to the safety of our pet parents and their dogs.”

About Salmonella

Salmonella can affect animals eating the product and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products.

Healthy people infected with Salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. 

Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms. 

Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.

Dogs with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. 

Some dogs will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. 

Infected but otherwise healthy dogs can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. 

If your dog has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

What to Do?

If pet parents have products matching the description above, they should stop feeding it to their dogs and dispose of it immediately.

Consumers are asked to call the company if you have any of the recalled product in your possession. 

You may also use the following link to request a refund: https://freshpet.co/ssdb21.

Pet parents who have questions or would like to report adverse reactions should call 1-866-789-3737, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 9 pm ET and Saturday through Sunday, 9 am to 1 pm ET… or visit www.freshpet.com.

U.S. citizens can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.

Or go to the FDA’s “Report a Pet Food Complaint” page.

Canadians can report any health or safety incidents related to the use of this product by filling out the Consumer Product Incident Report Form.

Get Lifesaving Recall Alerts by Email

Get free dog food recall alerts sent to you by email. Subscribe to The Dog Food Advisor’s emergency recall notification system.

There’s no cost. No spam ever. Cancel any time.

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Once again, please share this as widely as you can.

Our lovely dogs don’t deserve this!

A tribute

To my dear Pharaoh.

I was sorting through some papers over the weekend and I came across something that I wrote on the 14th September, 2007.

Let me explain.

2007 was a very important year for me. I had barely got over the fact that my ex-wife had walked out on me the previous December 20th but had been given the revelation that my fear of rejection had been brought into my conscious state after having been unconscious for 50 years. This was a fantastic outcome from just one visit to a local psychotherapist.

I had been out to California in the summer to see Dan. His sister, Suzanne, had called by and invited me to come to Mexico for Christmas. I was unaware that this trip to Mexico was to change my life for the better in every imaginable way!

Anyway, back to my writings.

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I am your dog and have something I would love to whisper in your ear. I know that you humans lead very busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise, some have to do this alone. It always seems like you are running here and there, often too fast, never noticing the truly grand things in life.

Look down at me now. While you sit at your computer. See the way my dark, brown eyes look at yours.

You smile at me. I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit? A soul inside who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a single moment of moment of your time. That is al I ask. To slow down, if even for a few minutes, to be with me.

So many times you are saddened by others of my kind passing on.

Sometimes we die young and oh so quickly, so suddenly that it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes, we age slowly before your eyes that you may not even seem to know until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract-clouded eyes. Still the love is always there even we must take that last, long sleep dreaming of running free in a distant, open land.

I may not be here tomorrow. I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the water from your eyes, that humans have when the grief fills their souls, and you will mourn the loss of just ‘one more day’ with me. Because I love you so, this future sorrow even now touches my spirit and grieves me. I read you in so many ways that you cannot even start to contemplate.

We have now together. So come and sit next to me here on the floor and look deep into my eyes. What do you see? Do you see how if you look deeply at me we can talk, you and I, heart to heart. Come not to me as my owner but as a fellow living soul. Stroke my fur and let us look deep into the other’s eyes and talk with our hearts.

I may tell you something about the fun of working the scents in the woods where you and I go. Or I may tell you something profound about myself or how we dogs see life in general. I know you decided to have me in your life because you wanted a soul to share things with. I know how much you have cared for me and always stood up for me even when others have been against me. That gift from you has been very precious to me. I know too that you have been through troubled times and I have been there to guard you, to protect you and to be there always for you. I am very different to you but here I am. I am your dog but just as alive as you.

I feel emotion. I feel physical senses. I can revel in the differences of our spirits and our souls. I do not think of you as a dog on two feet; I know what you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still.

So, come and sit with me. Enter my world and let time slow down if only for a few minutes. Look deep into my eyes and whisper in my ears. Speak with your heart and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow but we do have now.

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The anniversary of Pharaoh’s death in 2017 in this Friday, June 19th. He is still missed badly.

The Old and the New

This caught my eye!

Humans are great inventors! Indeed, a better way to describe H. sapiens ever since we separated from the chimpanzees, some 5 or 6 million years ago, is to describe us as explorers both outwards and inwards constantly in search for new worlds and new insights into meaning.

Thus this naturally caught me eye as Doug Thron uses a modern device, a drone, to search for animals in distress, a very ancient behaviour!

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Drone Pilot Rescues Animals After Natural Disasters

Doug Thron goes to devastated areas to save pets and wildlife.

By Mary Jo DiLonardo

Mary Jo DiLonardo

Published June 9, 2021.

Doug Thron with Duke, a dog he rescued after California wildfires.”Doug to the Rescue”

For nearly three decades, seaplane and drone pilot Doug Thron has been a professional photographer and cinematographer, primarily for nature shows and magazines. A few years ago he was using his drone to film the devastation left behind after wildfires in California when he teamed up with rescuers to help find lost pets and reunite them with their owners.

A long-time animal lover and environmentalist, Thron realized he could combine those passions, using his aerial skills. He now travels wherever there is need, using his drone to help communities dealing with the destruction after natural disasters.

Thron is featured in a six-part documentary series “Doug to the Rescue”streaming on CuriosityStream beginning June 10.

He talked to Treehugger about his first animal rescues, his drones, and some of the challenges he’s faced.

Treehugger: Which came first: the animal rescue work or the drone?

Dough Thron: I was using drones for filming for TV shows, commercials, and real estate clients before doing the animal rescue work. 

Were you involved in animal rescue and realized that your drone work could come in handy? 

Definitely. I was doing animal rescue work after the wildfires in Paradise, California. I was working with an expert cat rescuer named Shannon Jay, and I saw him using an infrared scope at night to help find the cats. We talked about how incredible it would be to put one on a drone and when the opportunity came up about 10 months later in the Bahamas after the category 5 Hurricane Dorian, that’s what I did and it worked incredibly.

I had raised orphaned baby animals as a kid and worked with animals such as possums, raccoons, squirrels, beavers, and even mountain lions. I’ve been using drones since 2013 for cinematography, so I’ve used them for quite a while before I got involved in the actual rescuing of animals with drones.

Duke in the Bahamas.Doug Thron / “Doug to the Rescue”

What was your first big rescue using a drone?

My first big rescue using a drone was in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. I was there helping to deliver aid and film the destruction when I spotted a dog roaming around the mountains of debris. He obviously hadn’t had any water or much food for days. He was really apprehensive at first, but warmed up over the course of the day, as I just sat with him. Dog food and water helped! The next day, some animal rescuers came with me to get him. He’s such an incredible dog, and meant so much to me, so I adopted him and named him Duke after a sign I’d seen where I found him.

Where are some of the places you’ve gone to help stranded animals? 

The Bahamas, Australia, Oregon, California, and Louisiana.

Thron with a rescued koala.”Doug to the Rescue”

What were some of the most challenging circumstances?

In Australia, it was challenging because the hurt koalas were deep in burnt out forests, often with a dense canopy. It was so hot out you had to fly strictly at night with spotlights and infrared and fly the drone pretty far and often drop it down through the trees to see the animals, which takes a lot of skill. Koalas are also very aggressive and strong, and not always thrilled when you go to grab them out of a tree to rescue them. On almost all these rescues, Australia and everywhere else, it’s countless long hours of work—generally about 20 hours a day—which can certainly wear you down day after day.

What is it like when you spot an animal in an area of devastation where there is no other sign of life? 

It’s great to be able to rescue these animals so much more efficiently and faster and, in many cases, find animals that never would have been found.  It’s different everywhere I go—finding animals when there aren’t any others alive nearby is always really hard. But in places like Louisiana, where I was searching in so many neighborhoods, it gives you a feeling of hope when you find a cat or dog, knowing it was someone’s pet. 

In other places, like Australia, I’d be covering dozens of miles a night, sometimes and only finding an occasional animal. It’s really sad because you realize how many thousands of animals didn’t make it. It’s also really hard to see how fires and other natural disasters as a result of climate change are taking out the last patches of unentered habitat and endangered animals.

A dog rescued in Louisiana.”Doug to the Rescue”

How heart-wrenching can it be?

It can be really heart-wrenching to find animals that are severely wounded, but it’s wonderful to be able to save them. 

How euphoric is it when you make a great save?

It’s awesome to be able to save people’s cats and dogs because frequently, that might be the only thing they have left after a fire or hurricane. Obviously, for the animal’s sake, it’s so incredible because without the infrared drone, in many cases, the animal would have never been found and would have died, sometimes a slow and painful death.

Thron with his drone.”Doug to the Rescue”

What is your drone like?

The Matrice 210 V2 are the drones I use with an infrared camera, spotlight, and 180x zoom lens. The combination of using those three attachments for animal rescue has never been done before.

How much time do you spend doing animal rescue work? What else do you do?

The rescue work is pretty continuous for 9 to 10 months during the fire and hurricane seasons. After that, there are occasional lost pets to be found.

What else do you want to accomplish?

I hope to make using infrared drones for animal rescue as popular as helicopters are for rescuing people after a natural disaster. So many more animals can be saved when you can find them so much faster and find ones that never would have been found on foot because there is just too much area to cover.

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This account makes me want to choke up. Doug is clearly used to being a professional photographer and, also, works with others in the field of animal rescue. But this story is about Doug and he is engaged with animal rescue with his heart as well as his head!

Doug has been reported widely I am delighted to say and there’s a YouTube video that you can watch.

It doesn’t get any better than that!

The food we buy for our pets

A report from BBC Future suggests there is a hidden reason

With six dogs feeding them is quite an exercise. I don’t really take much notice of what Jeannie does although I do know that we feed them kibbles, canned food and Jean cooks up beef for the dogs as well.

Recently BBC Future had a report saying that there is a hidden reason that processed foods are addictive. I am going to share that article with you.

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The hidden reason processed pet foods are so addictive

By Zaria Gorvett 20th May 2021

From potently smelly additives to offal concentrates, pet food companies turn to some surprising ingredients in the quest to make kibble delicious.

The cue might be a hand in a pocket, the opening of a cupboard door, or even a word said carelessly aloud – “dinner”. Before you know it, you’re tripping over a pet excitedly awaiting a portion of… dull-brown dried pellets. What’s in these mysterious morsels, that makes them as delectable as roasted chicken, wild salmon, or bundles of fresh herbs? 

Take my flatmate, a small black rabbit. For a large part of every day, he can be found sitting attentively with his paws on his empty food bowl, awaiting his next portion of kibble – even though it looks like his droppings and smells equally unappetising. He used to have an automatic dispenser with a timer, but he learnt to throw it across the room to access its contents prematurely. No matter what delicacies I place before him – home-grown parsley, soft-cut hay, fresh carrot-tops, organic kale – he would always rather eat processed pet food.

It seems that this is not unusual. Anecdotes abound about pets whose thoughts are largely preoccupied with kibble, such as the cat that has a daily panic attack when it realises it has eaten all its pellets and the pragmatic German shepherd found carrying a bag of dog food around the streets of Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

As it happens, this addictive quality is carefully engineered. Big Pet Food is a multi-billion-dollar industry which invests heavily in research into “palatants” – ingredients that make our pets want to eat their products. And from potently smelly chemicalsusually found in rotting meat to an additive commonly added to potatoes to stop them discolouring, the quest to make the most scrumptious pet food has led to some surprising insights.

“Big [pet food] companies have huge departments that make palatants,” says Darren Logan, head of research at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, part of the company Mars Petcare. “Just like we make them for humans, we make them for pets as well.” 

Upper-class dogs

The first pet food was invented in 1860 by James Spratt, an enterprising lightning-rod salesman from the US state of Ohio. Legend has it that he had travelled to England for his business, and was looking out over the docks of Liverpool one day when he noticed stray dogs knocking back leftover hardtack biscuits.

This was a revelation for two reasons.

Rabbits eat fresh vegetables in the wild, but many kept as pets feast instead on processed pellets (Credit: Getty Images)
Rabbits eat fresh vegetables in the wild, but many kept as pets feast instead on processed pellets (Credit: Getty Images)

Firstly, hardtack were famously unappealing – loathed by generations of the soldiers and sailors who ate them, these simple slabs of baked flour and water were tougher than wood and sometimes hard enough to break your teeth. Their nicknames included “sheet iron” and “worm castles“, the latter because of the high proportion that were infested with maggots and weevils. The oldest piece of surviving hardtack was baked just nine years before Spratt’s dock visit, and still looks suspiciously well-preserved 170 years later.

Secondly, until that moment it hadn’t occurred to anyone to check what their pets would like to eat – or that this could be monetised. For as long as we had kept domesticated animals, they had been fed more or less the same food as humans, or expected to fend for themselves.

One striking example is the husky. In their native territory of Arctic Greenland, Canada and Alaska, Inuit hunter-gatherers have traditionally fed these dogs on seal meat, which comprises the majority of their own diet. Sled-dogs are so well-adapted to this that when the British Antarctic Survey brought them to Antarctica as a form of transport in 1945, they found that they struggled to digest commercial dog food. In the end, they had to kill a number of local seals each year, just to feed the dogs, before they were largely replaced with skidoos in the 1960s and 70s.

Spratt’s innovation coincided with a cultural revolution in the way people saw their pets

Meanwhile in Victorian London, dogs that were lucky enough to be looked after were either given table scraps or gruel. Even specialist exotic animals were fed everyday human food – the 20,000 or more tortoises imported from Morocco each year were mostly expected to survive on ordinary garden vegetables or bread soaked in water. Cats were considered street animals and rarely fed.

But Spratt had hit upon something entirely new. Over the coming months he developed the “Meat Fibrine Dog Cake”, a biscuit-like concoction of beetroot, vegetables, grains and beef of dubious origins that claimed to meet all the nutritional needs of his customers’ hounds. (While its packaging implied that it was the finest prairie beef, what it was actually made from was a secret he took to his grave.)

Spratt’s innovation coincided with a cultural revolution in the way people saw their pets – dogs and cats went from being viewed as mere utility animals or borderline-vermin to beloved family members to be coddled. Consequently, the Meat Fibrine Dog Cake was marketed as a luxury food for aristocratic pets.

The husky dogs taken on early Antarctic voyages had to be fed with freshly killed seals (Credit: Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The husky dogs taken on early Antarctic voyages had to be fed with freshly killed seals (Credit: Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The adverts labelled them “Dog’s Delight” and included gushing testimonials from wealthy customers. Ironically, Spratt’s also promoted the fact that they were chosen to feed the sled dogs on Captain Scott’s 1901 trip to the Antarctic, though we now know they would much rather have eaten seal.

Eventually the company branched out into cat food – “Spratt’s puts pussy into fine form!”, they said – and the rest is history. However, the science of pet food palatants still had some way to go.

Disgusting smells 

Today it’s possible to buy specialised kibble for almost any kind of pet, from frogs to sugar gliders (a small marsupial). Most follow roughly the same formula – they usually contain some kind of base carbohydrate, assorted proteins and fats, sugars, a source of fibre, antioxidants or other preservatives, emulsifiers (which keep the fat in the food and prevent it from separating), vitamins and minerals, and colouring agents

More sophisticated versions may also contain probiotics or digestibility enhancers – such as chicory, which is often added to dog food – as well as enzymes, anti-parasitic compounds and minerals to prevent the build-up of tartar on teeth.

Oddly, there is very little relationship between how healthy a pet food is and its inherent deliciousness

To turn these ingredients into a dry pet food, it’s formed into a paste and “extruded” via a process that involves heating it up and forcing it through a plate with holes in it, to form an aerated product that matches the shape of the holes. It’s the same process that’s used to make puffed snack foods, with flavourings added in the final step – in the case of pet food, they’re either sprayed on or added as a powder.

Oddly, there is very little relationship between how healthy a pet food is and its inherent deliciousness. That’s because in the US, the EU and many other parts of the world, in order to describe one as “complete” – containing everything the body needs to be healthy – it must meet certain nutritional standards. These set out acceptable ranges for most ingredients, so manufacturers can’t just load up on sugar and fat to make it compelling.

“From my standpoint as a nutritionist, all pet foods are the same,” says Marion Nestle, professor emerita of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

The first processed dog foods were luxury products which ushered in the idea of the "pampered pet" (Credit: Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images)
The first processed dog foods were luxury products which ushered in the idea of the “pampered pet” (Credit: Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images)

Instead, companies turn to chemistry.

Many animals rely heavily on smell to navigate the world around them, and this is often the main sense that’s targeted. While human noses contain around 50 million olfactory receptors, cats have 67 million, rabbits have 100 million and dogs have around 220 million. On the other hand, their sense of taste is generally less discriminating than ours – our relatively high density of taste receptors is thought to have evolved to help us cope with our diverse omnivorous diets

The catch is that appealing to animals that find the smell of roadkill, sweaty socks, and vomit utterly enchanting – as carnivorous pets often do – while not making their human companions feel violently ill, is extremly tricky. “There is a slight paradox there, because the smells that cats particularly but also dogs seem to like are often the opposite of what humans like,” says Logan.

Nestle puts it more bluntly – “animals eat faeces”, she says. “They like strong animal odours and pet food manufacturers have a really difficult time, because they have to make it disgusting enough so that the animal will eat it, but not so disgusting that the owners won’t buy it.”

Pet food manufacturers have a really difficult time, because they have to make it disgusting enough so that the animal will eat it, but not so disgusting that the owners won’t buy it – Darren Logan

Examples include putrescine and cadaverine, colourless chemicals produced naturally by the breakdown of proteins. They’re largely responsible for the revolting smell of rotting flesh – and cats love them. While in human food, their levels are sometimes closely monitored as a way of ensuring the freshness and safety of meat, they’re often actively added to cat and dog food, either as offal extracts or lab-made additives.

In the case of naturally vegan animals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, irresistible smells such as mint and oregano are sometimes added in the form of concentrates.

Japanese-inspired cuisine 

Other insights are arguably more surprising. A recent study identified nine volatile compounds in common pet food flavourings that are linked to how delicious they are to dogs, including heptanal, nonanal, and octanal, which all have strong, fruity odours.

However, taste is also important – and here the preferences of carnivorous pets are not so different from ours.

One of the most popular additives in human food is the enigmatic “hydrolysed protein”, which is formed by breaking down the long strands of proteins into their constituent amino acids, usually using enzymes or hydrochloric acid. It imparts a flavour similar to that achieved by meat or vegetable stock, and often comes with MSG, which is produced as a by-product of the same reaction and is responsible for the savoury taste of tomatoes, cheese and Iberico ham.

Though hydrolysed proteins are produced artificially, the process is similar to what happens when you cook food for a long period of time – it’s a kind of pre-digestion, and is thought to contribute to the enticing smell of many brands of kibble.

Early processed dog food resembled the tooth-challenging hard-tack biscuits often taken on long sea voyages (Credit: Getty Images)
Early processed dog food resembled the tooth-challenging hard-tack biscuits often taken on long sea voyages (Credit: Getty Images)

“The understanding of cat palatability is very similar to Japanese or Asian cuisine, where there’s a lot of focus on umami and another taste modality called kokumi,” says Logan.

Kokumi was discovered in Japan in 1989, and has been proposed as the sixth taste in humans, after sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness and umami. It’s described as a kind of mouth-feel rather than a flavour per se – a texture that imparts richness and “thickness” to foods. Unlike the others, kokumi hasn’t yet been linked to a specific set of compounds, but foods that conjure this sensory experience include scallops, soy sauce, shrimp paste, yeast and beer.

While cats are particularly drawn to Japanese food, which is rich in meat and seafood, you’re unlikely to find them stealing ice-creams or doughnuts

The sixth taste is thought to be particularly popular with carnivorous animals, which may discern it via receptors in their mouths that evolved to detect calcium. And as you would expect, pet food companies have already begun targeting it with cocktails of flavour-enhancing chemicals.   

But there are some flavours that you will never find in certain pet foods.  

For example, most wild carnivorous animals lack the receptors for tasting sugar or carbohydrates. And unlike dogs, which have been living around humans and feasted off our scraps for up to 40,000 years, domestic cats have only been around for about 4,300. For the majority of that time, they were considered a kind of free pest-control that could fend for themselves.

So, while cats are particularly drawn to Japanese food, which is rich in meat and seafood, you’re unlikely to find them stealing ice-creams or doughnuts – unlike dogs, they simply haven’t been around humans for long enough to have evolved the ability to taste sugar.

Cats are irresistibly drawn to the chemical compounds found in rotting fish (Credit: Getty Images)
Cats are irresistibly drawn to the chemical compounds found in rotting fish (Credit: Getty Images)

On the other hand, because vegan animals eat exclusively vegetable matter, which is often rich in fibre and carbohydrates, they tend to prefer sweeter pet food.

Finally, no list of palatants would be complete without pyrophosphate, described in Popular Science as “cat crack”. This common additive performs a number of roles in human food, such as preventing potato products from going dark after they’re cooked – none of which involve improving its taste. Nevertheless, cats go nuts for it, possibly because it intensifies the flavour of amino acids.

Pet food companies are now so successful at making food delicious that they’re increasingly encountering a dilemma – it’s almost too good. “The danger for cats and dogs today is the same as for people, it’s overconsumption,” says Andrew Knight, a professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester.

Pet obesity is a growing problem in the developed world, with one survey of veterinary professionals at a vet show in London suggesting that around 51% of dogs, 44% of cats and 29% of small mammals are now overweight or obese.

Pet foods made from more sustainable ingredients such as insects or soya are generally just as acceptable to carnivorous pets as the real deal

According to Logan, this is not down to the way pet food is formulated, but humans succumbing to their beloved pets’ pleading gazes. “The reason we make pet food palatable is that if they don’t eat all the food that we give them, it won’t meet the nutritional needs that they require,” he says. “The real problem is owners feeding them too much – pets can’t open the packets themselves.”

However, there is an upside. There are mounting concerns about the environmental impact of pet food, too – in 2009, two New Zealand scientists estimated the planetary cost of keeping a dog as roughly twice that of having a medium-sized SUV.

Pets given too much calorific processed food may, just like humans, put on extra weight (Credit: Getty Images)
Pets given too much calorific processed food may, just like humans, put on extra weight (Credit: Getty Images)

This is where palatants come in. Because most pet foods comprise a fairly tasteless base that is spruced up with delicious flavourings and smells, pet foods made from more sustainable ingredients such as insects or soya are generally just as acceptable to carnivorous pets as the real deal. (Though cats cannot be fed a diet that is meat free.)

“According to this really large-scale study that we’ve just finished, the animals on vegan pet foods seem to be just as happy as animals on meat ones,” says Knight, who is hopeful about their future potential.

“There is a broad recognition that the need to be more sustainable will have a big impact on the pet food business,” says Logan, who explains that the pet food company he works for has just released its own brand of insect-based pet food.

So, why do our pets find pet food so addictive? Well, because it’s been made that way. Just like us, our pets find it hard to say no to the food we have designed to be tasty.

* Zaria Gorvett is a senior journalist for BBC Future and tweets at @ZariaGorvett

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That is a really useful article that goes a very long way to explaining how ‘big business’ interferes with the food that our pets eat.

And did you read right at the end of the article: “According to this really large-scale study that we’ve just finished, the animals on vegan pet foods seem to be just as happy as animals on meat ones,” says Knight.

Now there’s a thing!

This is amazing!

Puppies are born ready to communicate with humans!

This was an article that I saw in The Smithsonian and, as such, I am not allowed to reproduce it in full.

But I will give you a small extract:

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By Alex Fox

SMITHSONIANMAG.COM 
JUNE 3, 2021

Dog owners might not be too impressed when they’re able to point out a fallen piece of chicken or a thrown stick to their pooch, but dogs’ ability to follow that seemingly simple gesture places them in rare air in the animal kingdom. Some research suggests that even chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relatives, don’t understand pointing as well as dogs.

For decades, researchers have debated whether dogs obtain their ability to understand pointing by spending time with humans and learning it or if our furry companions are born with a capacity to comprehend this deceptively complex feat of communication.

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And if one follows that link above then one comes to Current Biology and, again, an extract:

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Summary

Human cognition is believed to be unique in part because of early-emerging social skills for cooperative communication.1Comparative studies show that at 2.5 years old, children reason about the physical world similarly to other great apes, yet already possess cognitive skills for cooperative communication far exceeding those in our closest primate relatives.2,3 A growing body of research indicates that domestic dogs exhibit functional similarities to human children in their sensitivity to cooperative-communicative acts. From early in development, dogs flexibly respond to diverse forms of cooperative gestures.4,5 Like human children, dogs are sensitive to ostensive signals marking gestures as communicative, as well as contextual factors needed for inferences about these communicative acts.678 However, key questions about potential biological bases for these abilities remain untested. To investigate their developmental and genetic origins, we tested 375 8-week-old dog puppies on a battery of social-cognitive measures. We hypothesized that if dogs’ skills for cooperating with humans are biologically prepared, then they should emerge robustly in early development, not require extensive socialization or learning, and exhibit heritable variation. Puppies were highly skillful at using diverse human gestures, and we found no evidence that their performance required learning. Critically, over 40% of the variation in dogs’ point-following abilities and attention to human faces was attributable to genetic factors. Our results suggest that these social skills in dogs emerge early in development and are under strong genetic control.

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And I am going to sneak one of the photographs in the original article!

A young puppy responds to a human pointing to a treat during an experiment conducted by scientists at the University of Arizona. (Canine Companions for Independence)

And what better to close the post that one of the photos I showed yesterday of dear Joy.

Picture Parade Three Hundred and Ninety-One

Beautiful puppy Joy!

Recently we went across to a good friend of Jeannie’s to take some photographs of her new puppy. The friend is LaRita and the puppy is Joy. Joy is just eight weeks old and beautifully friendly to strangers. Joy is a puppy Labrador.

So here are the photos.

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Finally one wet puppy!

What a beautiful dog!

P.S. All of a sudden WordPress have changed things and I cannot now find how to post the title of the post. I hope it will still be published and that you will enjoy these photos of Joy!

P.P.S. Until I hear back from WordPress or until I can work out the reason why I can’t post titles I shall not be doing more posts. Hopefully it won’t be long!

Update! It was my mistake. WordPress answered my email just a few minutes ago (14:45 PST) and all is sorted.

We are all connected!

Thank you Patrice Ayme for sharing this.

I can’t remember when I first came to know Patrice Ayme; it was quite a few years ago. I followed him for years and then had to take a break simply because there weren’t enough hours in the day! Not because I disliked what he was writing – no siree!

He is a most prolific author. Pop into Patrice Ayme’s Thoughts and have a browse around.

Anyway, Patrice recently forwarded me an article that rightly deserved much attention. Here it is:

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Saving The Animals, Thus Ourselves

Animals die in great numbers trying to cross human transportation systems.

When one provides the animals with crossings, they rush to use them (so are used even before they are finished, by a Noah’s ark of species).

Respecting nature is not just about the beauty and naturalness it provides us with, it is about respecting how we became who we are, at our best. We have to learn to share the planet with animals. Not just because we are smart, but also because they are smart and our smarts evolved from interacting with their smarts. So interacting with wild animals is smart all around… and it has made our species smarter! Wildlife interaction is how we evolved our smarts.

Not book smarts, but the deepest smarts.

Hence by respecting animals, we respect how we became human… and it keeps on being human to do so. Economy means managing the house, in particular, managing earth, which is our common house. As the greenhouse heating proceeds at an accelerating pace, we then have to reserve an increasing part of our economic activity to save the animals by helping them to cope with the changes we have brought.

Morality comes from the mores, the old ways, the ways which perdured, and thus, insure survival. Having a natural environment, full of animals, is the ultimate morality. If we can’t save them, how can we learn to save ourselves?

So it is not just smart and economic to save the animals, but also moral. The money engaged so far is quite small. But the price of an unbalanced environment tottering towards ruin, is incomparably higher. For a nice article with nice videos of animals using their smarts crossing freeways and roads, consider:

As a badger digs, say for ground squirrels whose burrows have many exits, could not it be that the coyote would seize a fleeing squirrel, and share the meal? This is basic economics and strategy, and it turns out that coyotes and badgers have figured out that behavior, and cooperate together.

The next question would be this: do the individuals concerned figure it out by themselves, as cephalopods do, or is the behavior culturally instigated, namely both badgers and coyotes learn elements of interspecific cooperation from teaching by their elders? I believe the latter.

After all, I trained the (wild) nesting birds on my balcony to benignantly ignore my weird and intrusive ways … which thus had to learn to be a bit more respectful than they usually are. But of course these ways tend to incite the red tail hawks to not land on this particular balcony on a determined culinary mission (as they have been seen doing…) And the birds know this [1].

Saving the animals is first of all about saving us… Not just our sense of beauty.

Patrice Ayme

[1] Hummingbirds set their nests below hawks’ nests, as this protects them from gays. Local hawks do attack nests of birds who are big enough (like gays, crows, etc). And I have seen them pass 10 feet from me, eyeing me suspiciously… Their feathers can be two feet long…

See this: https://www.audubon.org/news/why-hawk-hummingbirds-best-friend

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We are all connected as I said in the title to today’s post.

The only way we are going to survive as a species on this planet is for all of us to recognise this fundamental law of nature. Or should I say this fundamental law of Nature!

It is a little over fifty years since the inaugural celebration of the first Earth Day; on the 22nd April, 1970. In other words we are just over halfway through if one imagines the celebration of the one hundredth Earth Day: 22nd April, 2070. In 1970 the planet was home to 3.7 billion people. Today there are nearly 8 billion people. But more than that these 8 billion people are living to an average of 72 years, up from 59 years in 50 years.

Our failure to address climate change is harming the planet and all the species, including us humans, who live on Planet Earth. I shall be dead by 2070 and also a great many of my fellow humans. But for all those born in the year 2000 and later it is increasingly going to become the number one priority: Saving the planet from a total catastrophe!

We don’t have long!