Category: People

What if Reporters Covered the Climate Crisis

Like Murrow Covered World War II?

The new Covering Climate Now project will help media “tell the story so people get it.”

This is how the speech by Bill Moyers is introduced in this issue of The Nation:

The following is an abridged version of the speech by the iconic TV newsman Bill Moyers, as prepared for delivery at a conference at the Columbia Journalism School on April 30. A video of the speech can be seen at TheNation.com/moyers-speech.

Well, we have the advantage of going straight to the video.

What is journalism for, if not to awaken the world to looming catastrophes?

Picture Parade Two Hundred and Ninety-Five

That Chilean eclipse!

From EarthSky:

More amazing images of the July 2 eclipse

Some called it the “astronomer’s eclipse” because it passed near major observatories in Chile. Check out these beautiful images of the July 2, 2019, total solar eclipse.

This composite image captures the drama of totality during the July 2, 2019, total solar eclipse. When – as seen from Earth – the moon passes directly in front of the sun, the sun’s light is blocked and its extended atmosphere or corona can be seen. The processing of this image highlights the intricate detail of the corona, its structures shaped by the sun’s magnetic field. Some details of the lunar surface can also be seen. The image – via European Space Agency (ESA) – was created by the ESA-CESAR team observing the eclipse from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, South America.
A prominence seen in the sun’s chromosphere during the July 2, 2019, total solar eclipse. Prominences are made of tangled magnetic field lines that keep dense concentrations of solar plasma suspended above the sun’s surface. They are anchored to the sun’s visible surface and extend outwards through the chromosphere and out into the corona. The red hue of the chromosphere is only apparent during an eclipse. This image – via ESA – was taken by the ESA-CESAR team observing the eclipse from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, South America.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Total solar eclipse over Vicuna, Chile, on July 2, 2019 from Alexander Krivenyshev of the website WorldTimeZone.com.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Pablo Goffard caught the July 2 total solar eclipse from Incahuasi, Chile. He wrote: “This is just a photo, a tiny part of the experience. Incahuasi is a small town in the Atacama desert. Here it’s seen the camp installed especially for the eclipse.”
This image of eclipse-watchers was taken by a frequent EarthSky contributor, Yuri Beletsky, on the Chilean coast. It was chosen as an Astronomy Picture of the Day for July 4, 2019. Congratulations on a wonderful photo, Yuri! Note that diffraction spikes (apparent rays from the sun) are effects from the camera lens aperture.

While some observers on the southern part of Earth saw a total solar eclipse, the European Space Agency’s PROBA-2satellite’s SWAP imager in space saw a partial eclipse, as shown in the video below. The images are in ultraviolet light, revealing the turbulent nature of the sun’s surface and corona. ESA said:

During this eclipse the satellite was passing through the South Atlantic Anomaly at the time of the largest occultation [covering of the sun]. In this region the spacecraft is exposed to higher levels of radiation. The increased flux of energetic particles falling on the satellite’s detector is the cause for all the bright dots and streaks in the images.

Bottom line: More amazing images of the July 2, 2019, total solar eclipse.

There is more, much more, on the Smithsonian magazine website. Do go across and see the images.

July 4th!

A cool idea from Austin.

I was at the Club NorthWest yesterday wearing my ‘U.S.’ shorts and Piper Cub T-shirt, something that I exercise in regularly, and Austin, my trainer, said why don’t you wear them tomorrow.

But then I couldn’t put a photograph in a post that came out at midnight, Oregon summer time, so I busied myself with a camera yesterday afternoon.

Here are the results!

And one to show the colours of the shorts a little better.

Well that’s all from me for today.

Happy July 4th!

Picture Parade Two Hundred and Ninety-Four

About as far away from dogs as one can get!

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Best photos of the Mercury-Mars conjunction

Posted by in ASTRONOMY ESSENTIALS | TODAY’S IMAGE June 23, 2019

It was the closest conjunction of 2 planets in 2019, between Mercury and Mars. It happened low in the evening twilight – and was best seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. Check out these photos from EarthSky Community members.

Dr Ski in Valencia, Philippines, caught Mars and Mercury on the day following their conjunction, June 19, 2019. The nearby stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini are a great comparison. Those 2 stars are noticeable for being bright and close together. Mercury and Mars were much closer! Thanks, Dr Ski!
Wow! You can really see the color difference between red Mars (on the left) and Mercury in this photo from the day of the conjunction – June 18, 2019 – by Peter Lowenstein in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Thanks, Peter!
Here’s a June 17 photo from Jose Lagos in Vaals, Netherlands. He wrote, “This was the last image I could get before June 18, when it was too cloudy near the horizon, but you can see that the conjunction is nearly perfected. It was beautiful to behold even this much of it. Thank you for your time and your great work at Earth Sky.” Thank you for your photo and kind words, Jose!
Gilbert Vancell caught the planets on June 18, too, and wrote: “Mercury (top) and Mars setting behind Comino Tower. Shot from Armier, Malta.”
Helio C. Vital captured in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 18, 2019. He wrote, “Despite the fact that many clouds were floating over my western horizon this evening, I could get some photos of Mercury and Mars only 14 arcminutes apart over Rio de Janeiro at dusk (from 17:45 to 18:30 UTC-3h, June 18, 2019).Forming a beautiful close pair through binoculars, Mercury was an easy naked-eye target while Mars (4.4 times dimmer) required the use of averted vision to be briefly spotted. Hope my images can help give you an idea of what the interesting event looked like.”

Bottom line: Photos from the night of and around the June 18, 2019, conjunction of Mercury and Mars, closest conjunction of two planets this year.

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I hope a few of you enjoyed today’s Picture Parade.

Here’s to July!

The power of a photograph

No words to say how I feel!

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. AP Photo/Julia Le Duc

This is a terrible photograph. It has been widely shown but that doesn’t make it any less terrible.

Patrice Ayme recently wrote about the tragedy but for today I am republishing the article in The Conversation.

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How much power can one image actually have?

By

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon

Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

When the Associated Press published Julia Le Duc’s photograph of a drowned Salvadoran man, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his 23-month old daughter Valeria, it sparked outrage on social media. According to Le Duc, Ramírez had attempted to cross the Rio Grande after realizing he couldn’t present himself to U.S. authorities to request asylum.

But beyond raising awareness via Twitter and Facebook feeds, does an image like this one have the power to sway public opinion or spur politicians to take action?

As journalism and psychology scholars interested in the effects of imagery, we study the ability of jarring photos and videos to move people from complacency to action. While graphic imagery can have an immediate impact, the window of action – and caring – is smaller than you’d think.

A political catalyst?

Photographs and videos – through their perceived authenticity – can have an effect on people.

Research suggests that the graphic photo of slain Emmett Till in his open casket served as a “political catalyst” in mobilizing Americans to action in the civil rights movement. Similarly, news images have been credited as playing an important role in ending the Vietnam War.

But not all scholars agree. A recent article argued that it was a “myth” that the iconic “napalm girl” photo swayed public opinion and hastened the end of the Vietnam War.

Did the ‘napalm girl’ significantly shift public opinion on the Vietnam War? manhhai/flickr, CC BY

We must also look to psychology to understand the impacts of emotional news content. Research demonstrates that audiences need an emotional connection – and not merely a “just-the-facts” reporting approach – as “prerequisite for political action” when it comes to appreciating the importance of distant mass suffering. And imagery can trigger this emotional connection by overcoming the psychic numbing that occurs when casualties mount, images blur and lost lives become merely dry statistics.

Images from Syria

In April 2017, gut-wrenching images seem to have awakened the world to the human atrocities happening in Syria. Following a chemical bomb attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, graphic photos and videos documented the horrific effects of the banned nerve agent sarin. Millions bore witness to excruciating human suffering: gasping, choking, writhing and dying. More than 500 people were injured, with at least 86 deaths, including 28 children.

The vivid, closeup images of sarin attack victims were resonant enough to break through the complacency of people and politicians accustomed to bad news emerging from the war-torn nation. In President Trump’s response – which included a retaliatory missile strike – he seemed to recognize the value of the Syrian lives depicted in the horrific photos and videos.

Syrian doctors treat a child following a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. Edlib Media Center, via AP, File

“When you kill innocent children,” he said during a news conference, “that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line – many, many lines.”

The limits of an image

Nonetheless, even though the attacks may have briefly heightened U.S. concerns over the wars in Syria, the photographic documentation of the suffering in Syria wasn’t new.

The 2015 photos of a tiny Syrian boy’s lifeless body resting face down in the sand similarly stirred the world’s collective consciousness. Within hours of its release, the photo had reached 20 million people through Twitter, with many more millions seeing it on the front pages of newspapers the next day. Afterwards, government restrictions on accepting refugees were loosened while private donations to organizations like the Red Cross spiked dramatically.

A year later haunting images of a young boy in the back of an ambulance, caked in dirt and blood, galvanized the world.

But the emotional and compassionate responses to both photographs were short-lived. The bombing of civilians in Syria continued. Refugees continued risking their lives to escape the war zone.

After a photograph of a dead Syrian boy went viral in 2015, the number of daily donations to a Swedish Red Cross campaign designated specifically for aiding Syrian refugees spiked dramatically – but only for a brief window. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, CC BY-SA

Since the publication of Le Duc’s photo of the dead migrants, supportive politicians may feel emboldened to sound the alarm on the plight of Central American migrants. Donations to immigrant aid organizations might briefly spike.

But it seems that a photograph, no matter how emotionally devastating, can only do so much.

Yes, it can create a window of time when we’re motivated to act, and we’ll usually do so if we have effective options to pursue. This could mean a charitable donation at the individual level or, collectively, a surge of political will. However, psychology research from the “arithmetic of compassion” suggests that sympathy for distant human suffering declines when we’re presented with rising body counts. Sometimes we’re discouraged by the scope of the problem and this stops us from doing things that actually make a difference – even if partial solutions can save lives. Other times, if the options for helping others seem too narrow or ineffective, we’ll turn away and stop caring.

Images can alert us to the horrors of violence, mass migration and poverty. But as we have seen time and again, photographs and news footage of human suffering generally precipitate a short-term emotional reaction, rather than a sustained humanitarian response.

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As one reads the article it is much more than a comment on a single image despite how terrible that photograph may be.

The two scientists set out to show that the period that we are alarmed or terrified or just plain sad at the state of nations is rather short.

Maybe it’s the self-protective nature of our species that does this.

But it still doesn’t diminish the horror of that top photograph.

Back to those eyes!

A recent item on Healthy Pets offers some more information.

Yesterday Belinda, who is local to us in Merlin, Oregon, sent me a link to a further article about dogs’ eyes.

In an email to me, Belinda wrote:

I read your blog on a dog’s eyes and now I know why they have such expressive eyes.  I read this and didn’t know if you have any interest in a follow-up to that blog.

Well of course we do! 🙂

The only comment I would make is whether or not Dr. Becker is up-to-date with the latest science.

But here is the article.

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What does it mean when your dog gives you the ‘side-eye’?

by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

June 25, 2019

Story at-a-glance

  • The term side-eye denotes a greater amount of “white” in a dog’s eyes, which is more pronounced when the dog averts his head slightly, but keeps his eyes fixed on something or someone at the same time
  • Some dogs, particularly brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short muzzles), appear to show the whites of their eyes most of the time, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re feeling anything in particular
  • The side-eye may be a way for dogs to say “Back off,” and may precede some sort of aggression, especially if they’ve been guarding something like a toy — or food — and suddenly feel threatened
  • In studies of other types of canines, dingoes were found to initiate eye contact with a familiar human more often than wolves, but the duration was found to be shorter than the eye contact between humans and dogs
  • Dogs’ demeanor might appear to be excitement when they bark, whine, pant or pace, so it’s important to know your dog but also assess the situation that might be causing it

It’s been called the “whale eye,” that sidelong glance your dog gives you that communicates very strongly that something’s up. Also called the “side-eye,” it’s when the color white appears in a half-moon shape on either the right or left side of their eyes.

You may have seen dogs and their cute side-eye looks on social media. They can be quite comical, especially when the accompanying expressions match the captions. Nevertheless, it’s wise to know what your dog’s body language is trying to tell you, because as much as dogs might want to speak in human terms, they’re not able to.

So what does the whale eye mean? Trainers are said to use the term to describe a greater amount of “white” in a dog’s eyes as a means to communicate. It’s more pronounced when the dog averts his head slightly, but keeps his eyes fixed on something or someone at the same time.

Some dogs, particularly brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short muzzles), appear to show the whites of their eyes most of the time, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re feeling anything in particular. Other examples of a dog’s body language, especially if you know what to look for, signify very specific things. Depending on the situation, you might be able to discern what it means fairly quickly.

Side-eye may be a way for dogs to say “Back off,” and usually precedes some sort of aggression, especially if they’ve been guarding something like a toy — or food — and suddenly feel threatened.1 According to Bark Post:

“This is pretty common behavior for dogs to exhibit. Obviously, that doesn’t mean we want them to keep doing it, but it’s important to realize this doesn’t mean you have a defective pup. He’s still the adorable, hilarious, wonderful … little guy or girl you love.

When coming across this sort of behavior, you should definitely give your pup the space they’re asking for. Back up and analyze the situation. Did you get too close to the bone they’ve been hiding for 72 hours?”2

Signs your dog is trying to tell you something

If your dog is giving the side-eye to another person the dog may not be familiar with, experts advise dog owners to be aware of the behavior and try to diffuse it. “Much of what’s required in mitigating this behavior is just removing the cause from the situation.”3

If your dog’s side-eye response is accompanied by a rigid stance or visible tension, it happens more than once and it’s evident it’s not just a sidelong glance, it could be stress-related, and it wouldn’t hurt to contact a positive dog trainer or behaviorist. In many ways, like people, there are a number of ways dogs communicate stress, tension and anxiety.

Sometimes their demeanor might appear to be excitement, such as behavior like barking, whining, panting or pacing. Dogs that feel uncomfortable or nervous might communicate it by hiding, relieving themselves in the house, cowering or shaking. At times, however, the signs may be much more subtle, such as if you notice them blinking, yawning, licking, swallowing or shedding more than usual.

If your pup shows the side-eye or other signs of stress, petting him gently with long, smooth strokes from their chest, shoulder and base of their tail will help relax him.4,5 It helps relieve tension and could even serve as a sort of “maintenance” to help keep them calm in out-of-the-ordinary situations.

How eye contact in other canine species denotes communication

While wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) may not seem to have much in common with domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), experts place them in the same species. That great Danes and Chihuahuas are related to each other, not to mention these feral varieties, seems hard to believe, but domestic dogs came from wolves, and scientists say some wolf varieties may be coyote hybrids.

Dingoes, placed for years in the same canine designation as dogs, wolves and coyotes, have been deemed their own distinct species. They’re now formally called Canis dingo,6 even though they bear a remarkable resemblance to other canines. Over the last few centuries, their scientific names, such as Canis lupus dingo and Canis familiaris dingo, wrongly related them to the others.

Interestingly, a study7 on the origins of dog and human eye contact included all of the above species. It determined that dingoes establish eye contact less often than dogs do, but more often than wolves. In addition, dingoes were found to initiate eye contact with a familiar human more often than wolves, but the duration was found to be shorter than the eye contact between humans and dogs.

While words are the preferred mode of communication between humans, your dog may pay more attention to your posture, gestures and eye contact, possibly because they often use body language to communicate more than any other tool. They’re also in tune with your tone, and pick up from you more of your mindset than you might imagine.

Dogs’ body language changes around humans

Not only do dogs communicate with their humans with body language, they also do so with other dogs, especially when there’s more than one dog or several in a household. But the journal Nature cited a study8 showing that a dog literally “produces” more facial expressions when they’re looking straight at their significant humans. In fact, it:

“Support(s) for the idea that dogs do indeed produce facial expressions to communicate with people — although perhaps just to engage us, rather than to manipulate us. The dogs in the study produced more than twice as many facial expressions (‘puppy dog eyes’ was one of the most common) when a researcher was facing them than when she was turned away …

(It) adds to a growing body of work that shows how sensitive dogs are to human attention. It also provides the first evidence in a non-primate species that facial expressions can be used actively to communicate.”9

Psychology Today affirms that eyes are the “window to the soul.”10 If you’re a dog lover, you know you can share thoughts and feelings just by looking into your beloved pet’s eyes. It’s one of the signs that the bond between you is strong, and communicates mutual respect, as well. One more thing those eyes reveal is that the love your dog has for you is unconditional. Just watch out for those side-eyes.

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The numbered references do not appear to relate to any further details as a footnote to the article. Maybe one has to be a subscriber to gain access to them?

Anyway, the article was of interest and follows on very nicely to the article published on June 22nd: Those Eyes.

32,000 years ago!

A wolf became buried.

This is a wonderful story and one that I shall go straight into. Reason I have software problems that I’m trying to fix today!

This article was first published by The Smithsonian magazine.

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A Perfectly Preserved 32,000-Year-Old Wolf Head Was Found in Siberian Permafrost

Given the head’s state of preservation, researchers are hopeful that they can extract viable DNA and use it to sequence the wolf’s genome.

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 11.38.50 AM.png
The specimen is the first (partial) carcass of an adult Pleistocene steppe wolf—an extinct lineage distinct from modern wolves—ever found (Courtesy of Dr. Tori Herridge)
smithsonian.com

Last summer, a mammoth tusk hunter exploring the shores of the Tirekhtyak River in Siberia’s Yakutia region unearthed the fully intact head of a prehistoric wolf. Preserved by the region’s permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, for some 32,000 years, the specimen is the first partial carcass of an adult Pleistocene steppe wolf—an extinct lineage distinct from modern wolves—ever found.

The discovery, first reported by the Siberian Times, is poised to help researchers better understand how steppe wolves compared with their contemporary counterparts, as well as why the species eventually died out.

As Marisa Iati writes for the Washington Post, the wolf in question was fully grown, likely aged 2 to 4 years old, at the time of its death. Although photographs of the severed head, still boasting clumps of fur, fangs and a well-preserved snout, place its size at 15.7 inches long—the modern gray wolf’s head, in comparison, measures 9.1 to 11 inchesLove Dalén, an evolutionary geneticist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History who was filming a documentary in Siberia when the tusk hunter arrived on the scene with the head in tow, says that media reports touting the find as a “giant wolf” are inaccurate.

“It is not that much bigger than a modern wolf if you discount the frozen clump of permafrost stuck to where the neck would [normally] have been,” Dalén explains to Smithsonian.com.

According to CNN, a Russian team led by Albert Protopopov of the Republic of Sakha’s Academy of Sciences is currently building a digital model of the animal’s brain and the interior of its skull.

David Stanton, a researcher at the Swedish Museum of Natural History who is leading genetic analysis of the remains, tells Smithsonian.com that given the head’s state of preservation, he and his colleagues are hopeful that they can extract viable DNA and use it to sequence the wolf’s genome. This work, expected to last at least another year, will eventually be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

A Russian team is currently building a digital model of the animal’s brain and the interior of its skull
A Russian team is currently building a digital model of the animal’s brain and the interior of its skull (Albert Protopopov)

For now, it remains unclear exactly how the wolf’s head became separated from the rest of its body. Speaking with Smithsonian.com, Tori Herridge, an evolutionary biologist at London’s Natural History Museum who was part of the team filming in Siberia at the time of the discovery, says that a colleague, Dan Fisher of the University of Michigan, thinks scans of the animal’s head may reveal evidence of it being deliberately severed by humans—perhaps “contemporaneously with the wolf dying.” If so, Herridge notes, the find would offer “a unique example of human interaction with carnivores.” Still, she concludes in a post on Twitter, “I am reserving judgment until more investigation [is] done.”

Dalén echoes Herridge’s hesitancy, saying that he has “seen no evidence convincing” him that humans cut off the head. After all, it’s not uncommon to find partial sets of remains in the Siberian permafrost. If an animal was only partially buried and subsequently frozen, for example, the rest of its body could have decomposed or been eaten by scavengers. Alternatively, it’s possible that shifts within the permafrost over thousands of years led the carcass to break into multiple pieces.

According to Stanton, steppe wolves were “probably slightly larger and more robust than modern wolves.” The animals had a strong, wide jaw equipped for hunting large herbivores such as woolly mammoths and rhinos, and as Stanton tells USA Today’s N’dea Yancey-Bragg, went extinct between 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, or roughly the time when modern wolves first arrived on the scene. If the researchers successfully extract DNA from the wolf’s head, they will attempt to use it to determine whether the ancient wolves mated with modern ones, how inbred the older species was, and if the lineage had—or lacked—any genetic adaptations that contributed to its demise.

To date, the Siberian permafrost has yielded an array of well-preserved prehistoric creatures: among others, a 42,000-year-old foal, a cave lion cub, an “exquisite ice bird complete with feathers,” as Herridge notes, and “even a delicate Ice Age moth.” According to Dalén, these finds can largely be attributed to a surge in mammoth tusk hunting and increased melting of permafrost linked with global warming.

Speaking with Smithsonian.com, Stanton concludes, “The warming climate … means that more and more of these specimens are likely to be found in the future.”

At the same time, he points out, “It is also likely that many of [them] will thaw out and decompose (and therefore be lost) before anyone can find … and study them.”

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It’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good. That saying comes to mind when I read about the warming climate and more specimens being found.

Fascinating!

Those eyes!

The science.

This story has been carried by numerous magazines and journals and well it should.

It reveals that the eyes that dogs have are an evolution as a result of their long association with humans.

But let me shut up and let The Atlantic carry on with the account.

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Dogs’ Eyes Have Changed Since Humans Befriended Them

Two specialized muscles give them a range of expression that wolves’ eyes lack.

HALEY WEISS

JUN 17, 2019

English Springer spaniel dog called Twiglet poses on June 30, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. JAMES D. MORGAN / GETTY

Dogs, more so than almost any other domesticated species, are desperate for human eye contact. When raised around people, they begin fighting for our attention when they’re as young as four weeks old. It’s hard for most people to resist a petulant flash of puppy-dog eyes—and according to a new study, that pull on the heartstrings might be exactly why dogs can give us those looks at all.

A paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that dogs’ faces are structured for complex expression in a way that wolves’ aren’t, thanks to a special pair of muscles framing their eyes. These muscles are responsible for that “adopt me” look that dogs can pull by raising their inner eyebrows. It’s the first biological evidence scientists have found that domesticated dogs might have evolved a specialized ability used expressly to communicate better with humans.

For the study, a team at the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Centre looked at two muscles that work together to widen and open a dog’s eyes, causing them to appear bigger, droopier, and objectively cuter. The retractor anguli oculi lateralis muscle and the levator anguli oculi medialis muscle (mercifully known as RAOL and LAOM) form two short, straight lines, which connect the ring of muscle around a dog’s eye to either end of the brow above.

These researchers have long been interested in the ways dogs make eye contact with humans and, in particular, how they move their eyebrows. In 2017, Juliane Kaminski, the lead author of the new paper, found that dogs moved their eyebrows more often while a human paid attention to them, and less often when they were ignored or given food (which, sorry to say, is a more exciting stimulus for them than human love). That suggested the movement is to some degree voluntary. On our side of these longing glances, research has also shown that when dogs work these muscles, humans respond more positively. And both man and mutt benefit from a jolt of oxytocin when locked in on each other.

This isn’t simply a fortuitous love story, in which the eyes of two species just so happen to meet across a crowded planet. Like all the best partnerships, this one is more likely the result of years of evolution and growth. If dogs developed their skill for eyebrow manipulation because of their connection to humans, one way to tell would be to look for the same capacity in wolves. Because dogs split off from their wolf relatives—specifically, gray wolves—as many as 33,000 years ago, studying the two animals is a bit like cracking open a four-legged time capsule. Divergence between the two species marked the start of dogs’ domestication, a long evolutionary process influenced—and often directly driven by—humans. Today, researchers can identify and study differences between the species to gain an understanding of exactly how dogs have changed over time.

In this case, those eyebrow-raising muscles do appear to be an addition to dogs’ anatomy. In the four gray wolves the researchers looked at, neither muscle was present. (They did find bundles of fibers that could be the precursors to the RAOL and LAOM.) In five of the six breeds of dogs the researchers looked at, both muscles were fully formed and strong; in the Siberian husky, the wolflike, oldest breed of the group, the researchers were unable to locate a RAOL.

Sometimes, the origins of changes like these aren’t immediately apparent. Certain physical dog traits—including floppy ears and short snouts—likely originate from the same set of developmental cells that code for tameness, a preferable trait in household pets, for instance. In the case of this new research, though, the connection between the physical trait and the related behavior is a bit more direct. “Previous work—and much of it by these same authors—had shown that these muscles were responsible for enhancing positive responses in humans,” Brian Hare, the director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center and the editor of the paper, told The Atlantic via email, “but the current suggests the origin of these facial expressions is after dogs split from wolves.”

By evolutionary standards, the time since this split has been remarkably short for two new facial muscles to have developed. For a species to change that quickly, a pretty powerful force must be acting on it. And that’s where humans come in. We connect profoundly with animals capable of exaggerating the size and width of their eyes, which makes them look like our own human babies and “hijacks” our nurturing instincts.

Research has already demonstrated that humans prefer pets with more infantlike facial features, and two years ago, the authors of this latest study showed that dogs who made the facial movement enabled by the RAOL and LAOM muscles—an expression we read as distinctly humanlike—were more likely to be selected for adoption from a shelter than those who didn’t. We might not have bred dogs for this trait knowingly, but they gained so much from having it that it became a widespread facial feature. “These muscles evolved during domestication, but almost certainly due to an advantage they gave dogs during interactions with humans that we humans have been all but unaware of,” Hare explained.

Tim Smith

“It’s such a classically human system that we have, the ways we interact with our own infants,” says Angie Johnston, an assistant professor at Boston College who studies canine cognition and was not involved with the study. “A big theme that’s come out again and again in canine cognition and looking at the domestication of dogs is that it seems like they really just kind of dove right into our society in the role of being an infant or a small child in a lot of ways. They’re co-opting existing systems we have.”

The same humanlike facial gestures could also be a dog’s way of simply securing attention in the first place. Eyebrow raising is one of the most well-understood examples of what researchers call ostensive cues, a family of nonverbal signals (often facial movements and expressions) humans send one another to convey their intention to directly communicate. Dogs’ uncanny ability to mimic this human expression likely leads us to project certain human emotions onto them in ways we don’t with other animals, regardless of what they might actually be feeling.

The movement of the RAOL and LAOM muscles is particularly open to interpretation. “In different contexts we’ll call that something different,” says Alexandra Horowitz, a senior research fellow at the Barnard College Dog Cognition Lab. “In one case, I might say it’s sad, but in another case I’ll say, He’s really paying attention. It can look wry, like a questioning or unbelieving look.” According to Horowitz, dogs are the only animals aside from our primate cousins that are expressive in this eerily familiar way. Horses alone share the ability to twist their eyes into the same doleful shape, but their overall expressions don’t strike us as humanlike in the same way that dogs’ do. With dogs, Horowitz points out, we’re so driven to connect that we often search for “smiles” in the shapes of dogs’ mouths. The new research, she says, “makes me think it’s more about being able to move the face in a way that humans move the face. We don’t like unexpressive faces.”

Both Horowitz and Johnston suggested that similar studies looking at populations of dingoes (which Johnston researches) and Siberian foxes could provide yet another time capsule of sorts for understanding eyebrow movements and other evolutionary traits. Both species live near humans and are some of the closest living relatives to the earliest dogs. Why did they stay wild while dogs drifted into domestication? “Anything to do with getting to the bottom of why we as a species picked out this one animal can carry a huge amount of information,” Horowitz says. “In some ways, it’s discovering something about ourselves.”

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There is only one way to close this post!

Puppy Mills, Part Two

Part Two of this guest post from Monika.

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One of the more alarming facts surrounding the audit was a lack of enforcement against violators. Enforcement has been ineffective, particularly against the worst of the worst where little or no action against a majority of violators resulted. Of the enforcement decisions for 68 sampled violators, 71% (48) resulted in no action taken, 6%  (4) received a “Letter of Information,” 19% (13) received an Official Warning and 4% (3) resulted in Stipulation. In 2007 the AC discontinued using Letter of Information as an enforcement option. Only 20 of 68 dealers (nearly 30%) were cited for repeat violations.

States with Animal Cruelty Laws

Only 5 states have a subsequent-offense felony cruelty law (Arkansas, Idaho, North & South Dakota, Mississippi); and 5 States have a misdemeanor cruelty law (Alaska, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the remaining 40 states have a first-offense felony cruelty law.

We all know that puppy mills put profit over the health and well-being of the dogs but here are a few of the worst examples cited in the Audit.

Example No. 1. With 83 adult dogs, a Oklahoma breeder was sited with 20 violations during 5 inspections from April 2006 to December 2007. Lack of adequate vet care for 3 dogs hair-loss over their entire bodies and raw, irritated spots on their skins. Despite continuing violations, no enforcement actions were taken due to the agency’s lenient practices against repeat violators.

During another visit, AC cited breeder for another 11 violations (one involving a dog that had been bitten by another and left untreated for at least 7 days which resulted in the flesh around the wound rotting away to the bone! The inspector required the dog be taken to a local vet who immediately euthanized it. The case was referred to IES for investigation but only after another violation was documented. AC recommended a stipulation, yet as of early June 2009 (11 months following visit), violator had not been fined.

Example No. 2 was another OK facility with 219 adult dogs. Breeder was cited for 29 violations (including 9 repeats) during 3 inspections from February 2006 to January 2007. Yet the AC did not take enforcement action, but did request an investigation in November 2007 when another inspection revealed five dogs were found dead and other starving dogs resorted to cannibalism. When asked why dogs were not confiscated when the first dead and starving dogs were discovered, inspector cited its own regulations require violator be given opportunity to correct condition before confiscation can occur. Despite those conditions, the AC did not immediately confiscate the survivors, resulting in another 22 dogs dying before the breeder’s license was revoked and surviving dogs were rehomed within a year.

Example No. 3  involved a Ohio facility with 88 adult dogs. Breeder was cited for 23 violations including 7 repeats during 3 inspections from August 2005 to January 2008. An official warning was sent in July 2007 and in a subsequent visit in January 2008, found the same violations with another official warning sent rather than a more severe penalty. When asked by a more serious action was not taken, the regional manager indicated ‘breeder was making progress’ with a ‘reasonable opportunity’ to comply. National instructions state official warning can be sent if no other action was taken against a violator in the previous 3 years. Four months later in June 2008, breeder was cited for another 9 violations (4 repeats) yet the inspector recommended no enforcement action. Upon re-inspection 4 months later, breeder was cited for 4 more violations (including 3 repeats); AC took no enforcement action noting violator was “making credible progress.”

The USDA accompanied 19 of the 99 inspectors to observe dealer facility inspections. While many inspectors are highly committed, inspections are conducted timely and thoroughly and significant efforts are made to improve humane treatment of covered animals, it was noted that at least 6 inspectors did not correctly report direct or repeat violations. Some inspectors did not always document violations with sufficient evidence and direct violations were not reported. The Agency Guide defines a direct violation as one that “has a high potential to adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal” which include: “infestation with large numbers of ticks, fleas, or other parasites” and “excessive accumulations of fecal or other waste material to the point where odors, disease hazards, or pest control problems exist.” In such cases, a facility must be re-inspected within 45 days to ensure that the violator has taken timely actions to treat the suffering animals. By contrast, an indirect violation is one that “does not have a high potential to adversely affect the health and well-being of the animal.” Minor violations include: “inadequate records” and “surfaces not resistant to moisture.” In such cases, a re-inspection may not occur for up to a year.

Major deficiencies of the APHIS administration of the AWA cited in the Audit included:

  • AC’s enforcement process was ineffective against problematic dealers.
  • AC inspectors failed to cite or document violations properly to support enforcement actions.
  • AC inspectors failed to Cite or document violations properly to support enforcement actions.
  • APHIS’ new penalty worksheet calculated minimal penalties. Although APHIS previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA, the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators. This occurred because the new worksheet allowed reductions up to 145 percent of the maximum penalty.
  • APHIS misused guidelines to lower penalties for AWA violators. In completing penalty worksheets, APHIS misused its guidelines in 32 of the 94 cases we reviewed to lower the penalties for AWA violators. Specifically, violations were inconsistently counted and applied “good faith” reductions without merit. A reduction in “no history of violations” when there was a prior history; and  arbitrarily changed the gravity of some violations and the business size. AC assessed lower penalties as an incentive to encourage violators to pay a stipulated amount rather than exercise their right to a hearing.
  • Some large breeders circumvented AWA by selling animals over the Internet. Large breeders that sell AWA-covered animals over the Internet are exempt from AC’s inspection and licensing requirements due to a loophole in AWA resulting in an increasing number of unlicensed breeders are not monitored for their animals’ overall health and humane treatment.

While the USDA does not advocate assessing maximum penalties, at a time when Congress tripled the authorized maximum penalty to “strengthen fines for violations,” actual penalties were down 20 percent less through the use of a new worksheet as compared to the one previously used.

I could go on, but to do so belies cold hard facts that trying to stem puppy mills is a bit like playing a ‘Whack-A-Mole.”

Bottom line, what the Audit tells us is: (1) red tape saddles agencies with convoluted regulations that are difficult to implement or monitor, due in part to (2) the sheer number of puppy mills and (3) a lack of adequate number of inspections conducted.

No doubt resources are limited but until such time as the economics of keeping puppy mills in business is reduced, they will continue to operate with impunity. The resulting advice is make sure your breeder is legit and don’t succumb to adorable puppy faces in pet shop windows.

I shudder to think how many of Elsa’s pups are out there because who easily resists puppies? It makes me wonder how many of them have genetic diseases due to poor breeding practices (in Elsa’s case epilepsy which was diagnosed just two weeks following her adoption), but other dogs seized at the same mill with her suffered from Sebaceous Adenitis (which is also most likely an autosomal recessive inherited disease), Addison’s Disease and one whose severe aggressive behavior (due to lack of socialization) was deemed so severe, he was considered unable to be rehabilitated in any way as to place him and heartbreakingly was euthanized. Bottom line, please adopt, don’t shop (or only use a reputable breeder). Only then can the sheer numbers of puppy mill facilities be reduced and heartbreaking stories like Elsa’s be stemmed.

Live, love bark! 🐾
Tails Around the Ranch

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We must spread the word far and wide that puppy mills have to be brought down by publicity and  lack of business.

Only when the last puppy mill goes out of business can we relax.

Finally, here’s a picture of a million miles from a puppy mill!

Melissa Lentz

Puppy Mills, Part One!

A guest post from Monika McDonald

If there’s one thing that raises the blood pressure of an animal lover, especially a dog lover, it’s a puppy mill.

I am very grateful for Monika to have sent me this piece, and for it to be her first guest post.

Here it is!

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Puppy Mills

By Monika McDonald

Puppy Mills…a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. Elsa, a Standard Poodle who probably lived 4 years or more in a mill, was rescued from a Northern Colorado puppy mill along with 8 other Standards (you can  read her story at the link). She was basically feral, shy but very sweet and curious and showed signs there was a lovely sweet companion beneath the matted filthy hair.

Recently I was given the opportunity to write a guest post for Paul at Learning from Dogs. Hold on to your hankies while I share some of the more disturbing facts uncovered from various sources. After much negative media coverage concerning large-scale dog dealers (i.e. breeders and brokers) failing to adequately monitor humane treatment for the animals under their care, the United States Department of Agriculture conducted an audit in 2010, some findings of which are noted below. Although Elsa was rescued through the local poodle rescue organization, I’m also featuring another group, the National Mill Dog Rescue group, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It is estimated there may be as many as 15,000 mills throughout the country, with a large number located in the heartland of the US. Simply put, puppy mills are dog breeding operations that put profit over the health and well-being of the dogs.

They can be a large or small operation, licensed by the USDA or unlicensed. It should be noted that in order to sell to a pet store, a breeder must be licensed, though many violate that requirement. According to the USDA, breeders…breed and raise animals on the premises whereas brokers negotiate or arrange for the purchase, sale or transport of animals in commerce. Puppy mills may house anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dogs, however smaller does not necessarily mean better.

Elsa was rescued from a very small mill with the same horrific conditions as the large ones. Puppy mills are everywhere, but a large concentration is located in the Midwest. Missouri has the largest number of puppy mills in the United States. Amish and Mennonite communities (particularly in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania) also run a large number of puppy mills.

Breeding parents spend their lives in 24-hour confinement in cages often stacked on top of each other. Protection from heat, cold, or inclement weather is rare and dogs live in filthy, unsanitary conditions receiving little or no veterinary care (some puppy mill owners often provide veterinary care without anesthesia or vet training). Female dogs are bred every heat cycle and are killed (or offered at auction) when they can no longer produce litters. Puppies are often taken from their mothers too young and can develop serious health or behavioral issues due to the conditions in which they are bred and shipped. Genetic diseases often result from the over-breeding. The bottom line is that puppy mills are all about profits. Any money spent on veterinary care, quality food, shelter, or staff to care for the dogs cuts into the profit margin.

Where are puppy mill puppies sold? Two primary sales outlets for puppies bred in  mills are pet stores, and the Internet. Nearly all puppies sold at pet stores come from puppy mills. Pet stores are the primary sales outlet for puppy mills and are essential for keeping puppy mills in business. Both licensed and unlicensed mills sell to pet stores with many mills selling to pet stores without the required license and not held accountable. Puppies are bred in mills and then shipped all over the country. Shipping conditions are inhumane. They can be forced to go up to 12 hours without food or water, and confined in a small space where diseases can be easily transmitted. Many puppies do not survive.

Background Info. In 1966, Congress passed Public Law 89-544, known as the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, to regulate the humane care and handling of dogs, cats, and other laboratory animals. In 1970 the law was amended (Public Law 91-579), changing the name to Animal Welfare Act (with subsequent amendments passed in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, 2002, 2007, and 2008). In 2010 the USDA conducted an audit of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Animal Care unit (AC) who are responsible for enforcing the act (the “Audit)”. Data cited is compiled from that Audit.

Inspections Conducted in FYs 2006-2008

Years

2006

2007

2008

No. of Inspectors

99

101

99

No. of Inspections*

17,978

16,542

15,722

Average Inspections Per Inspector

182

164

159

* These numbers include inspections on all licensees (i.e., dealers and exhibitors) and registrants (i.e., research facilities) under AWA.
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Tomorrow I will publish Part Two of Puppy Mills.