Humans have enjoyed a long history of canine companions. Even if it’s unclear exactly when dogs were first domesticated (and it may have happened more than once), archaeology offers some clues as to the nature of their relationship with humans.
The latest clue suggests that humans living in Southern Europe between 3,600 to 4,200 years ago cared for dogs enough to regularly share their gravesites with them. Barcelona-based researchers studied the remains of 26 dogs from four different archaeological sites on the northeastern Iberian Peninsula.
The dogs ranged in age from one month to six years old. Nearly all were buried in graves with or nearby humans. “The fact that these were buried near humans suggests there was an intention and a direct relation with death and the funerary ritual”, says lead author Silvia Albizuri, a zooarchaeologist with the University of Barcelona, in a press release.
To better understand the dogs’ relationship with the humans they joined in the grave, Albizuri and her colleagues analyzed isotopes in the bones. Studying isotopes—variants of the same chemical element with different numbers of neutrons, one of the building blocks of atoms—can reveal clues about diet because molecules from plants and animals come with different ratios of various isotopes. The analysis showed that very few of the dogs ate primarily meat-based diets. Most enjoyed a diet similar to humans, consuming grains like wheat as well as animal protein. Only in two puppies and two adult dogs did the samples suggest the diet was mainly vegetarian.
This indicates that the dogs lived on food fed to them by humans, the team reports in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “These data show a close coexistence between dogs and humans, and probably, a specific preparation of their nutrition, which is clear in the cases of a diet based on vegetables,” says study co-author Eulàlia Subirà, a biological anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
The archaeological sites all belong to people of the Yamnaya Culture, or Pit Grave Culture. These nomadic people swept into Europe from the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas. They kept cattle for milk production and sheep and spoke a language that linguists suspect gave rise to most of the languages spoken today in Europe and Asia as far as northern India.
The buried dogs aren’t the oldest found in a human grave. That distinction belongs to a puppy found in a 14,000-year-old grave in modern-day Germany. The care given to that puppy to nurse it through illness was particularly intriguing to the researchers who discovered it. “At least some Paleolithic humans regarded some of their dogs not merely materialistically, in terms of their utilitarian value, but already had a strong emotional bond with these animals,” Liane Giemsch, co-author on a paper about the discovery and curator at the Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt, told Mary Bates at National Geographic in 2018.
The fact that the researchers in the new study found so many dogs in the region they studied indicates that the practice of burying dogs with humans was common at the time, the late Copper Age through the early Bronze Age. Perhaps the canine companions helped herd or guard livestock. What is certain is that ancient humans found the animals to be important enough to stay close to even in death.
That last sentence is precious. “What is certain is that ancient humans found the animals to be important enough to stay close to even in death.”
As I spoke about yesterday in my introduction, when my mother remarried my sister and I had a new man about the house, so to speak. He was Richard Mills.
I was 13 or thereabouts and already struggling with my school work (the result of my father’s sudden death). And ‘Dad’ as we called him was finding his feet in the strange world of going from having no children to instantly having two step children!
Anyway, Dad found a theme with me that I enjoyed: building a shortwave radio receiver. It was full of learning for me and over the years I became hooked on listening to radio stations both near and far transmitting in morse code. I also joined the Harrow Radio Society and went across to their weekly meetings by tube and bus. (Despite the Society no longer being at the Harrow address it is amazing that they are still going strong.)
It was also a time when there was a great deal of ‘radio surplus’ equipment going for next to nothing and I ‘upgraded’ to an R-1152 receiver.
In time I became sufficiently old to take driving lessons and pass my driving licence. I then got a secondhand car. It helped because then I could drive up to Bushey and spend Sunday mornings at the house of Ron Ray. Ron was a keen amateur. On Sunday mornings Ron had a small group of people who wanted to pass the morse code test and apply for a licence.
I was already a member of the RSGB, the Radio Society of Great Britain, and that surely encouraged me further to study for my amateur licence.
In time, I sat the exam and much to my amazement passed!
So that is the story of me and amateur radio.
Well, almost the full story.
In 1963 I volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve, London Division. In time I was accepted and chose the join the radio branch, my G3PUK status coming in useful, because I reckoned that when we went to sea, on flat-bottomed minesweepers, it was better to be sick into a bucket between the knees than be sick on deck!
Two days of nostalgia follow! (You have been warned!)
As many of you already know, my father died fairly suddenly on December 20th, 1956. I had turned 12 some six weeks previously.
After about a year my mother remarried. His name was Richard Mills. Richard came to live at the house in Toley Avenue and had the unenviable task of taking on a new ‘son’ and ‘daughter’. (My sister, Elizabeth, some four years younger than I.)
Richard was a technical author in the newly-arrived electronics industry and one day he asked me if I would like to build a short-wave receiver. He coached me in the strange art of soldering wires and radio valves and other components and in the end I had a working receiver. That led, in turn, to me studying for an amateur radio licence. More of that tomorrow.
Simply elegant, Morse code marks 175 years and counting
The elegantly simple code works whether flashing a spotlight or blinking your eyes—or even tapping on a smartphone touchscreen
By Eddie King
Ph.D. Student in Electrical Engineering, University of South Carolina
May 21st, 2019
The first message sent by Morse code’s dots and dashes across a long distance traveled from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore on Friday, May 24, 1844 – 175 years ago. It signaled the first time in human history that complex thoughts could be communicated at long distances almost instantaneously. Until then, people had to have face-to-face conversations; send coded messages through drums, smoke signals and semaphore systems; or read printed words.
Thanks to Samuel F.B. Morse, communication changed rapidly, and has been changing ever faster since. He invented the electric telegraph in 1832. It took six more years for him to standardize a code for communicating over telegraph wires. In 1843, Congress gave him US$30,000 to string wires between the nation’s capital and nearby Baltimore. When the line was completed, he conducted a public demonstration of long-distance communication.
Morse wasn’t the only one working to develop a means of communicating over the telegraph, but his is the one that has survived. The wires, magnets and keys used in the initial demonstration have given way to smartphones’ on-screen keyboards, but Morse code has remained fundamentally the same, and is still – perhaps surprisingly – relevant in the 21st century. Although I have learned, and relearned, it many times as a Boy Scout, an amateur radio operator and a pilot, I continue to admire it and strive to master it.
Morse’s key insight in constructing the code was considering how frequently each letter is used in English. The most commonly used letters have shorter symbols: “E,” which appears most often, is signified by a single “dot.” By contrast, “Z,” the least used letter in English, was signified by the much longer and more complex “dot-dot-dot (pause) dot.”
In 1865, the International Telecommunications Union changed the code to account for different character frequencies in other languages. There have been other tweaks since, but “E” is still “dot,” though “Z” is now “dash-dash-dot-dot.”
The reference to letter frequency makes for extremely efficient communications: Simple words with common letters can be transmitted very quickly. Longer words can still be sent, but they take more time.
The communications system that Morse code was designed for – analogue connections over metal wires that carried a lot of interference and needed a clear on-off type signal to be heard – has evolved significantly.
The first big change came just a few decades after Morse’s demonstration. In the late 19th century, Guglielmo Marconi invented radio-telegraph equipment, which could send Morse code over radio waves, rather than wires.
The shipping industry loved this new way to communicate with ships at sea, either from ship to ship or to shore-based stations. By 1910, U.S. law required many passenger ships in U.S. waters to carry wireless sets for sending and receiving messages.
Aviators also use Morse code to identify automated navigational aids. These are radio beacons that help pilots follow routes, traveling from one transmitter to the next on aeronautical charts. They transmit their identifiers – such as “BAL” for Baltimore – in Morse code. Pilots often learn to recognize familiar-sounding patterns of beacons in areas they fly frequently.
There is a thriving community of amateur radio operators who treasure Morse code, too. Among amateur radio operators, Morse code is a cherished tradition tracing back to the earliest days of radio. Some of them may have begun in the Boy Scouts, which has made learning Morse variably optional or required over the years. The Federal Communications Commission used to require all licensed amateur radio operators to demonstrate proficiency in Morse code, but that ended in 2007. The FCC does still issue commercial licenses that require Morse proficiency, but no jobs require it anymore.
Because its signals are so simple – on or off, long or short – Morse code can also be used by flashing lights. Many navies around the world use blinker lights to communicate from ship to ship when they don’t want to use radios or when radio equipment breaks down. The U.S. Navy is actually testing a system that would let a user type words and convert it to blinker light. A receiver would read the flashes and convert it back to text.
Perhaps the most notable modern use of Morse code was by Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In 1966, about one year into a nearly eight-year imprisonment, Denton was forced by his North Vietnamese captors to participate in a video interview about his treatment. While the camera focused on his face, he blinked the Morse code symbols for “torture,” confirming for the first time U.S. fears about the treatment of service members held captive in North Vietnam.
Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, a prisoner of war, blinks Morse code spelling out ‘torture’ during a forced interview with his captors.
There are still many ways people can learn Morse code, and practice using it, even online. In emergency situations, it can be the only mode of communications that will get through. Beyond that, there is an art to Morse code, a rhythmic, musical fluidity to the sound. Sending and receiving it can have a soothing or meditative feeling, too, as the person focuses on the flow of individual characters, words and sentences. Overall, sometimes the simplest tool is all that’s needed to accomplish the task.
I do hope you read this article in full because it contains much interesting information. Many people will not have a clue about The Morse Code and, as you can see above, it is still relevant.
Finally, I can still remember the The Morse Code after all these years!
Eating Your Veggies Is a Better Way to Get Your Vitamins Than Taking Supplements, Study Shows
Vitamins in some supplements were actually harmful at high doses, while exceeding the daily nutritional limit in food didn’t show the same risk.
By Jason Daley
smithsonian.com, April 15, 2019,
Dietary supplements, including daily vitamins, have been a part of life in the United States for decades. In fact, people spend $30 billion per year on various pills, powders, gummies and tinctures to help improve their health, boost their brain, lose weight, build muscle and strengthen their immune system.
But a new extensive study suggests many people may be better off spending all that disposable income at the farmer’s market or grocery store produce section to buy spinach, tomatoes and other vitamin-packed veggies instead, according to a paper published this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers analyzed data from 27,725 participants in the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Each volunteer, all over the age of 20, logged what they ate for 24 hours and what supplements they took in the previous 30 days. The data was collected between 1999 and 2010.
Linda Carroll at NBC News reports that during the study’s six-year follow-up period, 3,613 participants died, including 945 from cardiovascular disease and 805 from cancer. Using that data, the study team found that getting enough vitamin K—found in leafy greens—and magnesium—found in legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish and meat—were associated with a lower mortality rate. Getting the recommended dose of vitamin K, zinc and vitamin A was linked to lower mortality rates associated with cardiovascular disease.
And it turned out that taking 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day in supplement form was associated with increased cancer risk, while getting excess calcium from food did not seem to increase those risks.
“Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements,” Fang Fang Zhang of Tufts University, the study’s senior author, says in a statement. “This study also confirms the importance of identifying the nutrient source when evaluating mortality outcomes.”
At first glance, the data suggested that supplement users might have better outcomes than non-vitamin takers. But Beth Mole at Ars Technica reports that supplement users tend to be wealthier and more educated than non-users, smoke less, exercise more, and have an overall healthier diet. When those factors were accounted for, the benefits of supplements disappeared. (It’s possible that supplements are helpful for portions of the population that suffer from certain nutritional deficiencies.)
The study has some limitations. Mole reports that the NHANES data relies on participants self-reporting what they eat and what supplements they take, which means the data might not be entirely accurate. The study is observational, meaning any relationship between nutrients in food and certain diseases is merely an association and does not imply causation.
Still, the study’s overall message is that supplements are not a silver bullet for health.
“I don’t think you can undo the effect of a bad diet by taking supplements,” Rekha Kumar, an endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, who was not involved in the study tells NBC’s Carroll.
This isn’t the first study to question the power of nutritional supplements. A paper last year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that using multivitamins did not provide any apparent benefits but did not cause any harm either.
In fact, taking some supplements have negative consequences. A 2011 study found that taking vitamin E, which was hypothesized to help prevent prostate cancer, actually increased the chances of developing the disease in men instead.
Zhang and her colleagues say that much more research needs to be undertaken to confirm and understand these findings since there are so many other factors that play a role in overall health.
H’mmm. It would be a braver person than I to come off the range of supplements that I take. And we are vegan as well!
Across North America, coyotes are moving into urban environments. While human residents are having to get used to the new animal neighbors, coyotes are also habituating to people.
As coyotes are moving into urban environments across North America, many human residents – whether they like it or not – are having to get used to them. Meanwhile, how are coyotes habituating to people?
A new study, published December 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Ecology and Evolution, suggests that coyotes can habituate to humans quickly and that habituated parents pass this fearlessness on to their offspring.
Until the 20th century, coyotes lived mostly in the U.S. Great Plains. But when wolves were hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s, coyotes lost their major predator, and their range began to expand.
With continuing landscape changes, coyotes are now increasingly making their way into suburban and urban environments — including New York City, Los Angeles and cities in the Pacific Northwest — where they live, mainly off rodents and small mammals, without fear of hunters.
The aim of the new study, was to understand how a skittish, rural coyote can sometimes transform into a bold, urban one — a shift that can exacerbate negative interactions among humans and coyotes. University of Washington biologist Christopher Schell is the first author of the study, Schell said in a statement:
Instead of asking, ‘Does this pattern exist?’ we’re now asking, ‘How does this pattern emerge?’.
A key factor, the researchers suggest, might be parental influence. Coyotes pair for life, and both parents contribute equally to raising the offspring. This may be because of the major parental investment required to raise coyote pups, and the evolutionary pressure to guard them from larger carnivores.
The new study observed eight coyote families at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Predator Research Facility in Utah during their first and second breeding seasons. These coyotes are raised in a fairly wild setting, with minimal human contact and food scattered across large enclosures.
But during the experiment researchers occasionally placed all the food near the entrance of the enclosure and had a human researcher sit just outside, watching any approaching coyotes, from five weeks to 15 weeks after the birth of the litter. Then they documented how soon the coyotes would venture toward the food. Schell said:
For the first season, there were certain individuals that were bolder than others, but on the whole they were pretty wary, and their puppies followed. But when we came back and did the same experiment with the second litter, the adults would immediately eat the food – they wouldn’t even wait for us to leave the pen in some instances.
Parents became way more fearless, and in the second litter, so, too, were the puppies.
In fact, the most cautious pup from the second-year litter ventured out more than the boldest pup from the first-year litter. Schell said:
The discovery that this habituation happens in only two to three years has been corroborated, anecdotally, by evidence from wild sites across the nation. We found that parental effect plays a major role.
Even if it’s only 0.001 percent of the time, when a coyote threatens or attacks a person or a pet, it’s national news, and wildlife management gets called in. We want to understand the mechanisms that contribute to habituation and fearlessness, to prevent these situations from occurring.
Bottom line: A new study suggests coyotes puppies learn from their parents how to habituate to humans.
Friederike Range, from the Konrad Lorenz Institute, at Vetmeduni Vienna university, said: “It shows that, while wolves tend to initiate behaviour and take the lead, dogs are more likely to wait and see what the human partner does and follow that behaviour.”
About 30,000 years ago, wolves moved to the edges of human camps to scavenge for leftovers.
The subsequent “taming” process of domestication and selective breeding then slowly began to alter their behaviour and genes and they eventually evolved into the dogs that we know today.
A team of veterinary researchers recently revealed a complete cure for metaldehyde toxicity in dogs; it’s called hemodialysis-hemoperfusion — a procedure used to remove kidney toxins from the blood
Metaldehyde is a chemical found in many snail and slug baits and is highly toxic to dogs, cats and wildlife; metaldehyde poisoning in dogs is common worldwide and about 25% of affected dogs don’t survive
A 10-pound dog can show signs of poisoning after eating as little as 1 ounce of a slug/snail bait containing 3% metaldehyde
Dogs who receive early, aggressive and appropriate supportive treatment for metaldehyde toxicity can fully recover within a few days, however, treatment is difficult and costly
Dogs explore the world with their noses and often, their mouths. In addition, most are indiscriminate eaters. This combination can lead to all sorts of challenges for dog parents — some funny, some gross, and unfortunately, some that are potentially deadly.
The latter category includes a long list of toxic substances found both indoors and out that most dogs will sniff and perhaps taste, given the chance. One of these poisons goes by a name many of you have probably never heard of: metaldehyde, a chemical used to kill slugs and snails.
Metaldehyde is highly toxic to mammals and birds and is the sixth most common substance veterinarians ask about when they call the 24-hour Veterinary Poisons Information Service, a worldwide emergency hotline. There is no known antidote for metaldehyde toxicosis, and supportive treatment is complicated and costly. Death occurs in approximately 25% of poisoning cases involving dogs.
Veterinary Research Team Uncovers a Complete Cure
Lucky for us, a team of veterinarians at the University of Munich became concerned about the number of poisonings and the prognosis for dogs with metaldehyde toxicity. They did some outside-the-box thinking and decided to see if a technique called hemodialysis-hemoperfusion — a procedure used to remove kidney toxins from the blood — might be an effective treatment.
The Morris Animal Foundation funded a grant that allowed the researchers to test their theory on plasma samples contaminated with metaldehyde. They were able to successfully reduce concentrations of the toxin in the samples, so the next step was to see if the technique would work on an actual dog.
Enter Jimbo, a Jack Russell Terrier who sampled slug bait containing metaldehyde. By the time he was brought to the university research team, Jimbo was having one seizure after another, without fully regaining consciousness. The team quickly performed hemodialysis on the dog, and within 24 hours he was back on his feet and on his way home.
As of this writing, the veterinary team has treated 10 dogs with their novel therapy and all 10 had a complete recovery. Their research findings will be published in the not-too-distant future for use by the global veterinary community.
Common Brands of Bait Sold in the US
As I mentioned earlier, metaldehyde is a chemical most commonly found in slug and snail baits. The baits usually come in granule form, but can also be found in liquid, powder, meal, gel/paste or pellet form. The baits are designed to release metaldehyde for about 10 days to two weeks under moderately moist conditions.
Bran or molasses is usually added to the baits to make them more attractive to snails and slugs, which also makes them appealing to dogs. Baits sold for home use in the U.S. generally contain between 2% and 5% metaldehyde. According to veterinarian Dr. Ahna G. Brutlag of the Pet Poison Helpline, the products most commonly reported to the hotline in this country include:1
Ortho Bug-Geta Snail & Slug Killer and Ortho Bug-Geta Plus Snail, Slug & Insect Killer
Corry’s Slug & Snail Death
RainTough Deadline Slug & Snail Killer
Force II Deadline Slug & Snail Killer
Lilly Miller Slug, Snail & Insect Killer Bait
Other U.S. brands include Antimilace, Cekumeta, Meta, Metason, OR-CAL, Slugger Snail & Slug Bait, Ortho Metaldehyde 4% Bait, Slug Pellets, Slugit Pellets and Slug-Tox. Surprisingly, in Europe, slug and snail baits can contain up to 50% metaldehyde. The chemical is also used in small heating systems (e.g., camping stoves) and lamps. The Japanese use metaldehyde in color flame tablets that are ignited for entertainment purposes.
Signs of Metaldehyde Toxicity
Dogs typically eat slug bait either off the ground or from a container. We don’t yet know how metaldehyde causes toxicity, only that it’s extremely deadly. A 10-pound dog can show signs of poisoning after eating as little as 1 ounce of a typical bait containing 3 metaldehyde.2 The chemical is also toxic to cats, though cases of poisoning are rare. It can also affect wildlife.
If your pet ingests bait containing metaldehyde, signs of toxicity will develop quickly, typically within the hour. The first sign is usually vomiting, because the toxin irritates the lining of the stomach. Next come neurologic signs, which can include anxiousness, increased heart and respiratory rates, excessive drooling, a stiff or drunken gait, and in some cases, hypersensitivity to touch.
As the toxicity progresses, there are muscle tremors that often trigger a high fever that can lead to organ failure. Nystagmus (rapid back-and-forth movement of the eyes) may also occur.
Symptoms of metaldehyde toxicity continue to progress for several hours after the bait is ingested, ultimately resulting in lethargy and weakness, continuous muscle tremors or seizures, loss of consciousness and death if the dog doesn’t receive aggressive, appropriate treatment in time.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of metaldehyde toxicity is most often based on clinical signs and suspected exposure to slug bait. It’s possible to test the stomach contents for the presence of metaldehyde, but the results won’t be back quickly enough to be of any benefit in saving the dog.
Veterinarians typically run a number of diagnostic tests (i.e., complete blood cell count, serum chemistry profile, urinalysis, etc.) to rule out other possible causes for a pet’s symptoms, as well as to find possible complications resulting from the poisoning that also require treatment.
Veterinarians will induce vomiting in dogs brought to them within an hour of ingesting metaldehyde who aren’t showing any neurologic signs. They’ll also be given activated charcoal to bind the metaldehyde still in the intestines, decreasing further absorption. If you can’t get your dog to a clinic within an hour, your veterinarian may instruct you to induce vomiting at home before leaving.
In dogs whose conditions aren’t stable enough to safely induce vomiting, the stomach can be emptied using gastric lavage, a procedure requiring anesthesia and a tube that is passed through the esophagus to the stomach. The tube is used to drain the contents of the stomach, flush it with fluids and place activated charcoal in there to bind whatever metaldehyde remains.
Dogs who undergo gastric lavage will need to stay in the hospital for several hours to receive additional doses of activated charcoal and be closely monitored for signs of toxicity. If signs develop, a longer hospitalization will be required. Supportive care while hospitalized can help keep your dog comfortable and deal with certain effects of the toxin such as tremors, seizures and blood abnormalities. Intravenous (IV) fluids will be given and your pet’s body temperature will be closely monitored.
Prognosis and Prevention
Most dogs with metaldehyde toxicity who receive early, aggressive, appropriate treatment recover fully within two to three days. However, treatment can be expensive, especially in severe cases requiring sedation or anesthesia. Since the cost of treatment can be prohibitive, and since metaldehyde poisoning isn’t something any loving pet parent wants their dog to endure, prevention should always be the goal.
My recommendation is to avoid using slug and snail baits containing metaldehyde and/or other toxic chemicals. If you want to protect your garden from the critters, consider using broken shells, lava rock or other alternatives to snail and slug bait.
Veterinarian Dr. Catherine Barnett of VCA Hospitals also suggests using copper bands around plants, or adding lavender, mint or rosemary plants to your garden. You can also fill shallow cans with beer to attract and drown slugs.3 You can find additional nontoxic solutions at this link.
It’s yet another reason why one should wherever possible keep the whole of one’s property clear of all chemical products. And try as hard as you can to stop your dogs and cats from ‘straying’ onto your neighbour’s land.
A family was out riding their bikes one day in South Carolina when they suddenly heard what sounded like a puppy crying. They pulled their bikes over to the side of the road and went to investigate, and were shocked to find a little puppy trapped under a pile of dirt and concrete. Not knowing how else to help, they quickly called 911, and both the police and firefighters with the North Charleston Fire Department responded in hopes that they could free the trapped puppy.
“They showed us where the dog was located,” Captain Paul Bryant, of the North Charleston Fire Department, told The Dodo. “It was piles of concrete 4 foot by 4 foot, some smaller, some bigger. One of the police officers said he could see the dog so we got on our hands and knees to look and saw his nose sticking out of the pile of rubble.”
After moving the concrete slabs out of the way with a pry bar, Captain Bryant attempted to pull the puppy, later named Rocky, out from the remaining dirt and rubble, but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough room. He then took a shovel and started digging, and finally was able to create enough space to pull the confused puppy out to safety. The whole rescue only took about 11 minutes, but no one has any idea how long Rocky had been stuck under there before everyone arrived.
As soon as he was free, little Rocky couldn’t stop licking Bryant’s face in gratitude. The puppy clearly had so much energy and lots of love to give, and everyone immediately fell in love with him — especially Bryant. The family who had initially found Rocky said they would take him to a nearby animal hospital to get checked for a microchip so he could hopefully be reunited with his family, but after he was gone, Bryant just couldn’t get Rocky out of his head.
“I wanted to know if his owner was found, or if the person who found him was going to keep him,” Bryant said. “Once I found out he did not have an owner and the family who found him could not keep him, I knew he was coming home with me.”
Bryant felt connected to Rocky from the second he rescued him from underneath that concrete, and it was as if the pair had always been meant to be together.
Once Rocky had been given a clean bill of health and was ready to head off to his new forever home, Bryant headed over to Charleston Animal Society to pick him up …
… and as soon as Rocky saw his rescuer again, he could barely contain his excitement.
Rocky is now all settled into his new home and couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. He went from being trapped and alone to having the world’s best dad, and everyone involved is so thrilled that Bryant and Rocky ended up together.
“He is a very energetic dog and loves to play fetch with his new toys,” Bryant said. “He is always by my side, never letting me leave the room without following me.”
Time and time again people from all walks of life know something instinctively when it’s in front of them. The love that we humans give to our dogs and the love that they return to us.
And a particular credit must go to the dog’s nose. It is many more times more sensitive than our nose, as the following article taken from Mother Nature Network shows. (And I really must stop republishing articles from MNN!)
6 medical conditions that dogs can sniff out
From cancer to migraines and even seizures, dogs can give us a heads up about a range of human diseases.
Dogs are famous for their sense of smell. With about 220 million scent receptors (compared to our 5 million), dogs can smell things that seem unfathomable to us. They can detect some odors in parts per trillion, and they can detect countless subtleties in scents.
As PBS points out, “Experts have reported incredible true stories about the acuteness of dogs’ sense of smell. There’s the drug-sniffing dog that ‘found’ a plastic container packed with 35 pounds of marijuana submerged in gasoline within a gas tank. There’s the black lab stray from the streets of Seattle that can detect floating orca scat from up to a mile away across the choppy waters of Puget Sound.”
And yes, there are the dogs who have sniffed out medical issues that even doctors weren’t aware of. Dogs can pick up on tiny changes in the human body, from a tiny shift in our hormones to the release of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, released by cancer cells. Researchers and dog trainers are just beginning to understand how dogs do this and how we might put them to work in being our helpers in health care. Here are six medical conditions that dogs are able to smell.
Perhaps the condition dogs are currently most famous for detecting is cancer. Dogs have been able to sniff out a variety of types including skin cancer, breast cancer and bladder cancer.
There are quite a few stories of a pet dog obsessing about an owner’s mole or some part of their body, only to discover in a doctor’s appointment that the dog was actually sensing cancer. For example, Canada Free Press writes of a 1989 instance when a woman’s “dog kept sniffing at a mole on her thigh, but ignored other moles. In fact, the dog had actually tried to bite off the mole when she was wearing shorts. The woman consulted her doctor, the mole was excised and the diagnosis confirmed a malignant melanoma.”
In the last couple decades, researchers have looked seriously into dogs’ sniffing abilities when it comes to cancers. In studies, dogs have successfully been trained to detect the disease using samples from known cancer patients and people without cancer.
The newest study offers the most startling statistics: Dogs can correctly pick out blood samples from people who have cancer with 97% accuracy, a 2019 study published in Experimental Biology found. Heather Junqueira, the lead researcher at BioScentDx who performed the study, used clicker training with four beagles. The dogs focused their efforts on blood samples from patients with lung cancer, and with one exception, they were highly successful. The sample was small, so BioScentDx plans to continue its work, according to Science Daily.
In a 2006 study, five dogs were trained to detect cancer based on breath samples. Once trained, the dogs were able to detect breast cancer with 88 percent accuracy, and lung cancer with 99 percent accuracy. They could do this across all four stages of the diseases.
Sometimes the dogs can do an even better job than the humans in these studies. According to Penn State News, Nancy Dreschel, a veterinarian in Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University, tells of an illuminating example: “A scientist was training dogs to detect bladder cancer in humans by smelling their urine. She said a dog alerted them to a sample from a supposedly healthy person who was being used as a control. On reexamination that person was found to have bladder cancer, so the dog caught it before anyone else did.”
Study after study has shown that dogs can detect cancer in people, but it may a while before your doctor employs a hound for your annual checkup. Researchers still don’t know exactly what chemical compounds for different types of cancers the dogs are sensing in these samples to alert to the presence of the disease, and this remains a hurdle both for better training of cancer-sniffing dogs and for creating machines that can more accurately detect cancer in the early stages.
Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that affects the ability to control sleep-wake cycles. This can mean a person suddenly falls asleep, even in the middle of a task. It’s a dangerous condition, as someone who has an attack could be injured falling to the ground or could have a car accident if it happens while driving.
Mary McNeight, Service Dog Academy director of training and behavior, has been working with narcolepsy service dogs since 2010, and she notes that there’s a scent the dogs pick up on when an attack is coming on. “It’s a biochemical change in the body. We do not know what the particular odor smells like due to the difference between human scent perception and dog scent perception,” she tells Sleep Review.
In a study published in 2013, Luis Dominguez-Ortega, M.D., Ph.D., found that two trained dogs detected 11 of 12 narcolepsy patients using sweat samples, demonstrating that dogs can detect a distinct scent for the disorder.
Service dogs help people with narcolepsy by performing several different types of tasks. They can stand over the person’s lap when an attack comes on, which prevents them from sliding out of a chair onto the floor; they can also stand over the person to protect them if they are out in public, or they can go get help. And most importantly, they can provide a warning up to 5 minutes before an attack comes on, giving their handler a chance to get to a safe place or a safe position.
While large dogs can be helpful in giving a narcoleptic sufferer extra support in balance and mobility after an attack, these dogs don’t have to be big. According to Petful, even medium-sized dogs can do the job. “Theo, a 2-year-old cocker spaniel, has virtually put an end to [Kelly] Sears’ suffering. He can sense when she is about to have a narcoleptic episode and warn her so that she can sit or lie down, waking her after a few seconds with a kiss on her chin. Since arriving two months ago from Medical Detection Dogs, the only organization in Europe that trains narcolepsy service dogs, Theo has proven himself indispensable.”
For those who suffer migraines, having a warning before one comes on can mean the difference between managing the problem or succumbing to hours or days of intense pain. Fortunately, some dogs have a talent for sniffing out the signs that a migraine is on the way.
Psychology Today reports on a recent study that asked migraine sufferers with dogs if they noticed a change in their dogs’ behavior before or during a migraine. The results show that “54 percent of the 1027 participants indicated they had noticed changes in the behavior of their pets during or preceding migraines. Nearly 60 percent of these subjects indicated that their dog had alerted them to the onset of a headache — usually an hour or two in advance.” The results are fascinating, though it’s important to point out that the study was conducted with self-reports rather than observation by researchers. Even so, the study shows evidence that many dogs seem to detect and point out a change in their human companion’s health.
According to Kendall Winship, a migraine sufferer with a service dog, “These [migraine alert service] dogs are highly valued because the ability to tell when a migraine is approaching is an innate talent; it can’t be taught. Similar to diabetic alert dogs that can smell when their handler has low blood sugar, migraine alert dogs can hone in on the scent of serotonin, a chemical that skyrockets when the body is about to have a migraine. By alerting to the danger long before their handlers might feel any symptoms, these dogs can warn them to take preventative medication. When Rally looks up at me and whines, I know I have about two hours before the migraine will strike, and if I can take my medication early enough, I might be able to avoid the stroke-like symptoms and incapacitating pain.”
Low blood sugar
Increasingly, dogs are helping diabetics know when their blood sugar level is dropping or spiking. Dogs4Diabetics is one organization that trains and places service dogs with insulin-dependent diabetics. These dogs undergo extensive training to be able to detect and alert their handlers to changes in blood sugar levels.
A 2016 study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that the dogs detect isoprene, a common natural chemical found in human breath that rises significantly during episode of low blood sugar. People can’t detect the chemical, but the researchers believe that the dogs are particularly sensitive to it and can tell when their owner’s breath has high levels of it.
Medical News Today reports that dogs are trained to discriminate between the scent from a previous episode and the scent of a current episode. They detect when their handler is having an issue and alert the person, giving them time to test their blood sugar and take the insulin they need.
A 2013 study published in PLOS One showed that having a diabetic alert dog seems to provide significant improvements in both the safety and quality of life of insulin-dependent diabetics. “Since obtaining their dog, all 17 clients studied reported positive effects including reduced paramedic call outs, decreased unconscious episodes and improved independence.”
There’s still some skepticism about whether or not dogs can accurately alert handlers to a blood sugar change at a level beyond chance, something that can be determined with more studies. Even so, for those diabetics living with alert dogs, the sniffing ability of their companions seems to be a big help.
One of the more controversial areas where dogs are used to alert to a medical condition is with seizures. There is growing evidence that dogs can and do detect the onset of a seizure; however, the level of accuracy and, most importantly, our ability to train dogs to alert a handler to an oncoming seizure remains a bit questionable.
As is the case with some other conditions, dogs cannot be trained to predict seizures. We don’t have a way to provide them with a scent or information that can be used for training. We can, however, train dogs how to respond to and assist a handler when a seizure occurs. Some service dogs that are placed with seizure patients do develop the ability to detect when a seizure is coming and can provide an alert if the handler pays close attention to the signals the dog provides. WebMD reports, “Jennifer Arnold, founder of Canine Assistants in Georgia, … says about nine out of 10 of the service dogs her organization has placed develop the ability on their own within a year of placement.”
A small 2019 study found that dogs were able to clearly discriminate a general epileptic “seizure odor.” However the study only involved a handful of dogs and involved odor samples that were collected during a seizure. Researchers pointed out that much more extensive testing would need to be done to see if other dogs would respond similarly and if dogs could predict seizures before they happened.
However, there is some question about how dogs are responding. How Stuff Workspoints out that in 2007, “two small studies in the journal Neurology reported that four out of seven seizure alert dogs studied turned out to be warning their masters of psychological, rather than epileptic seizures. This may not seem like a big deal, but the two disorders are different. A 2006 study revealed that up to 30 percent of patients who suffer from psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are misdiagnosed with epilepsy. PNES, which results from emotional difficulties and can often be successfully treated with counseling, rather than unnecessary and harsh epilepsy drugs. The 2007 study also revealed one instance of seizures being triggered by the patient’s dog’s warning behaviors, indicating another flaw in the reliability of canine seizure prediction.”
A 2003 study concluded that “findings suggest some dogs have innate ability to alert and/or respond to seizures” however, it notes that further research is needed to uncover which seizure patients would benefit from the help of a dog. We also need more research to learn how to train dogs to be as effective as possible. We have to first learn how dogs know when a seizure is coming — are they smelling a change in body chemistry, or are they picking up on behavior changes? — before we can reliably train them to alert handlers before a seizure happens.
Fear and stress
The age-old notion that dogs can smell fear is an accurate one. Dogs can smell when we are feeling fear or are experiencing an increased level of stress, even if we aren’t showing outward signs. What dogs are smelling is the surge of hormones our bodies release to respond to stressful situations, including adrenalin and cortisol.
Thankfully, this can be used to humans’ benefit, as dogs can signal a handler that they (or someone else) needs to take a few deep breaths. Dogs that alert handlers of the change in their emotional state — a change that often people aren’t even aware they’re experiencing — can help prevent panic attacks and other possible episodes associated with post-traumatic stress disorder or other issues.
“This 18-month Rhodesian ridgeback is the first cortisol-sniffing dog on staff at a school. Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone,’ and people on the autism spectrum tend to have higher levels of cortisol in their blood. Cali is employed to detect rising cortisol levels in the students. She waits outside of school each morning as the students file by. If she notices anyone with a high level of cortisol in their blood, she will signal to her handler, Casey Butler, a health teacher on staff at The Calais School who is a certified specialist in natural canine behavior rehabilitation and in animal adaptive therapy. When Cali stares at a child, Butler knows that is the signal. She then takes that child aside and works with him or her before a meltdown occurs.”
We still have a long way to go to discover exactly what dogs are smelling about us, let alone how we can train them to be as accurate as possible about a change in our bodies. Even though many details are not yet known, it’s clear that dogs have an uncanny ability to sniff out certain medical issues, and that’s a skill that could be a real lifesaver.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016 and has been updated with new information.
Dog owners spend US$240 a month caring for their pets, compared with $193 for cats, according to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Association. The extra money goes primarily toward vet visits and kennel boarding, but dog owners also spend more lavishly on treats, grooming and toys.
And almost half of households own a dog, while just 38 percent have a cat. Generational trends suggest this divergence is likely to grow, as millennials are more likely to adopt a canine, while baby boomers tend to be cat lovers.
One reason suggested was that dog owners had stronger bonds to their pets, which prompted them to spend more on things like veterinary care.
My research uncovered a key factor indicating why dog owners feel more attached to their pets: Dogs are famously more compliant than cats. When owners feel in control of their pets, strong feelings of psychological ownership and emotional attachment develop. And pet owners want to be masters – not servants.
Like other marketing researchers, my work uses “willingness to pay” as an indicator of the economic, rather than emotional, value owners place on their pets. It shows – and compares – how much pet owners would pay to save their animal’s life.
Who’s in control?
So I carried out three online experiments to explore the role of psychological ownership in these valuations.
In the first experiment, I asked dog or cat owners to write about their pet’s behavior so I could measure their feelings of control and psychological ownership. Participants then imagined their pet became ill and indicated the most they would be willing to pay for a life-saving surgery.
Dog owners, on average, said they would pay $10,689 to save the life of their pet, whereas cat owners offered less than half that. At the same time, dog owners tended to perceive more control and psychological ownership over their pets, suggesting this might be the reason for the difference in spending.
Of course, correlation is not causation. So in a second experiment, I asked participants how much they would be willing to pay to save their animal’s life after I had disturbed their sense of ownership. I did this by asking participants to imagine their pet’s behavior was a result of training it received from a previous owner.
As expected, disrupting their feelings of ownership eliminated the difference in valuation between dogs and cats.
Since pet owners like to control their animals, and since cats are less controllable than dogs, the third experiment went straight to the point: Does the owner value the dog or cat for its own sake or for its compliant behavior?
To find out, I again asked survey respondents to describe how much they’d be willing to pay to save their pet’s life, but this time I randomly assigned one of four scenarios: Participants were told they either own a dog, a cat, a dog that behaves like a cat, or a cat that behaves like a dog.
Participants reported they would pay $4,270 to save the life of their dog, but only $2,462 for their cat. However, this pattern was reversed when the pet’s behavior changed, with dog-behaving cats valued at $3,636, but cat-behaving dogs only $2,372.
These results clearly show that the animal’s behavior is what makes people willing to pay.
Master or servant
These findings establish that psychological ownership is a driving factor in dog owners’ higher valuations.
People feel ownership because they perceive that they can control their pets’ behavior. This research even distinguishes the type of control that probably most stimulates ownership feelings: It’s not just physical control, such as being able to pick up an animal or drag it by a leash. Rather, it’s the animal’s voluntary compliance with its owner’s wishes.
No matter how cute and cuddly your kitties may be, they can’t compete with dogs when it comes to giving pet owners the sense of mastery they seek.