Tag: German Shepherd

Being saved by a dog!

A serendipitous find!

Yesterday, I published a post under the title of Forecasting Wonderful ‘Blu’ Days!

There was an exchange of thoughts between me and Susan Leighton, who is the author of the blog Woman On the Ledge:

(In part:)

Susan: Dogs can be such a comfort when life becomes overwhelming.

Me: For nobody can escape those moments when life becomes overwhelming. A loving partner is precious beyond words at those times, but there’s still something comforting beyond that love when it comes to our dogs.

Susan: Very true, Paul. A dog has saved me many times!

Later on yesterday, when I was looking for something for today’s post, I came across this video:

 Published on Jan 5, 2015

Hantu the White German Shepherd Plays Surrogate Mum to Poncho the Opossum at the Rare Species Fund, South Carolina, USA.
Poncho the opossum was found clinging to his mother’s back after she had been hit by an oncoming vehicle, a common hazard for nocturnal animals. Under veterinary supervision, Poncho was brought to the Rare Species Fund in South Carolina where he has nursed to health. Opossums are the only New World marsupials and, in the wild, spend the first several months of their lives clinging to their mother’s backs. Having had no puppies of her own, Hantu seems a more than willing foster mum and mode of transportation for Poncho. Robert Johnson of the Rare Species Fund says, “They are both playing important roles in each other’s lives. When Hantu goes for her daily walks through the woods, she won’t leave the house until Poncho is securely mounted on her back.”

Just thought that was a lovely reminder of the unconditional love offered by our dogs; for humans and for other creatures!

The Nose of the Dog

Originally published on September 3rd, 2012.


The incredible power of smell that dogs have.

The nose of a German Shepherd dog!

Regular readers will know that I subscribe to the blog Naked Capitalism masterminded by Yves Smith.  Some time ago, there was a link on NK to a story about how a tiny Chihuahua dog rescued some missing girls.  It seemed like a good opportunity to take a closer look at this most magical aspect of a dog’s qualities.

First to that story.

I saw it on the Care2 website, from which I quote the following:


Hero Chihuahua Finds Missing Girls in the Woods

by  August 2, 2012

A 3-year-old chihuahua named Bell is an unexpected hero after finding three young girls who became lost for hours in the woods in Newnan, Georgia, on Monday.

CBS Atlanta reports that, on Monday, 8-year-old Carlie and 5-year-old Lacey Parga went for a walk with their dog Lucy down a cul-de-sac on trails near their neighborhood.

What started as a casual stroll became an unintended, and at times frightening, experience. As Carlie tells CBS, ‘”We tried to find our way out of the woods. We kept following paths and stuff and we got lost.” Indeed, they became scared that they were only to get more and more lost.

Carlie’s father, David Parga, noted that it wasn’t characteristic of them to wander off and, after searching for them but not hearing them respond, he contacted police and firefighters. Neighbors joined them including Carvin Young who thought to take Bell, who plays with the girls every day and knew their scent. Bell was able to lead searchers to the girls.

The full story on the Care2 website is here and on the CBS website here.

So what is it about the nose of the dog?  A dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have only five million, making dogs’ sense of smell a thousand times greater.  Frankly, trying to get one’s intellect around precisely what having a sense of smell one thousand times greater than a human means is tough!  So on to another story.

The Bark and Clark blogsite reported an item in February that had been seen in the K9 Magazine.

17 Dogs, 3 Generations, 70 Years.
There’s one constant…
…the family dog.

After moving to Wellesley, Massachusetts for an anchor job with a major television sports network, Kevin began taking his German Shepherd, Beverly, for walks in the surrounding neighborhoods. They developed a route that included historic Atwood Street. Beverly kept veering toward one house in particular that had also caught Kevin’s eye previously, thinking it looked familiar but not knowing the reason.

After talking to a close family relative who had also once lived in Wellesley, Kevin was shocked to discover that the memorable house had once been a childhood home to his father, Bob Walsh, before WWII. After digging through old family photos that had been tucked away for years, Kevin uncovered a picture of his father as a toddler with his family on the house’s front porch, complete with their first family dog, Dee Dee.

Kevin’s father had been writing short stories about all of their family dogs through the years, but never knew about the photo. Its discovery was the pivotal moment that offered proof that the Walsh family’s journey with dogs had come back to the exact place where it started.

They’ve turned this story, along with other dog tales, into a book called Follow the Dog Home: How a Simple Walk Unleashed an Incredible Family Journey.

Dog’s nose leads family to back long lost old home, site unseen. German Shepherd, Beverly, is chronicled on WCVB TV’s news magazine show Chronicle. 70 years later, the family goes back “home” for stunning reunion and photograph.


What clever, smart animals they are!

The book! Chapter Twenty-Three.

Learning from Dogs

Chapter Twenty-Three

It was October 25th, 2013. Exactly a year since the day that they had moved in to their Merlin home.  Yet in some very strange way if felt neither as long as a full year nor as short.

Molly and Philip were sitting on the decked verandah looking out over the acres of grass. A group of five dogs were cavorting and chasing around in what looked like for them a dog heaven.

He came back to his strange thought of it not feeling like a year; in either direction.  The beauty of their land, the joy the dogs experienced every time they ran freely about the place was beyond measure.  All their neighbours, without exception, were people that he and Molly liked. More than that, they were also helpful and sharing persons.  Rationally, he admitted, this was probably a key aspect of country folk right across the United States of America.  But it didn’t diminish what it felt like.  Plus his Englishness was welcomed and enjoyed and that created an additional layer of acceptance. Thus in those ways it felt that they had been here for much longer than twelve short months.

On the other hand, his difficulty at learning names and faces of people, even neighbours; his struggle to still find his way to certain stores and shops in Grants Pass had a feel as though they had only just moved in; had been here much less than a full year.  That slowness in learning his way about the area worried him at times. It was disquieting and more than once he turned inwards and quietly worried that dementia was stealing up on him as it had for his elder sister, Diana, who had died of it earlier in 2013.

More generally, two dogs had died of old age over the past months so they were down to a total of nine.  Those nine were divided into groups of five and four.

The group of five were Pharaoh, Sweeny, Dhalia, Hazel and Cleo. Cleo was the younger German Shepherd that they had purchased as a companion to Pharaoh, who had passed ten-years-old last June. This group was affectionately called the bedroom group because they slept overnight in the main bedroom with Molly and Philip.  The other four dogs were Lilly, Ruby, Casey and Paloma.  Known as the kitchen group because they lived in the large kitchen and dining area. It worked very well. All nine dogs found their home property endlessly interesting simply because each day there were so many new smells for them to follow.

There was another aspect of their year here that figured very strongly in Philip’s mind.  That was the tension between anger and peace, his anger and his peace, and the role of dogs in his life.

He had observed strongly how the level of disquiet, to put it mildly, in the minds of everyday folk all around them was increasing.  A throw-away comment in front of a store check-out woman about how we were living in interesting times would trigger a facial expression, a shrug of the shoulders that spoke volumes.  Often added to by a comment from the next person in line.  Many other tiny windows into how so many people were feeling uncomfortable about the world we were all now living in.

He fully expected to see growing levels of social anger and unrest over the next few years.  He could feel the force of anger playing with his mind.

What was it that Jonathan used to speak about?  Yes, the difference between power and force.  How force could never produce lasting change. Yet how power came from within and could change mountains, metaphorically speaking.  Or, as Jonathan pointed out, literally in the case of the power of water and sand.

Philip knew that to bury his face into the furry warmth of a dog’s coat, to wrap his arms around one of their animals and feel the dog relax in to that hug, offered him something priceless.  It offered the lesson, time and time again, that anger is only cured from within. That the power of that dog’s unconditional love for him effortlessly took him within himself and bathed him in love, peace and contentment.

One evening during early September, Dhalia did not return to the house after the usual after-supper dog run.  He said to Molly that he would go out and look for her.  He walked down to the forest just by the creek and stood calling out her name. As the sun set behind the tall peaks and the darkness drew in around him, he started imagining what it would be like to leave their property and plunge into the deep forest searching for one of their dogs that had become lost.  He shivered with the thought of how fragile was the boundary between being secure at home and being utterly lost in a vast wilderness.

Thank goodness, he wasn’t put to the test because at that moment the sound of little paws heralded Dhalia’s return.  She came immediately to his side, her tail wagging with such furious affection, as it so often did.  Philip kneeled down and hugged her.  Dhalia lowered her head and pushed herself under his left arm. Tears flowed from his eyes revealing his joy and love that this precious dog was not lost or harmed.

When he and Dhalia had returned to the house, he couldn’t shake off that image of being out alone in the forest. To the extent that the same evening, quite untypically, after their meal he had excused himself to Molly and sat down and written a short story on the theme.

Sitting there with Molly on the verandah more than a month later he  reflected that what he could remember of those words was a little hazy. He rose from the chair to go and find where he had put the completed story. He found it almost immediately and came back out to the verandah.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” Molly asked.

“It’s that story I wrote of being lost out in the forest; you know the one I wrote back in early September.”

“Oh yes, I loved that story. Do read it to me again.”

He took out his reading glasses, looked down and started reading.


“Molly, where’s Dhalia?”

“I don’t know. She was here moments ago.”

“Molly, You take the other dogs back to the car and I’ll go and scout around for her. Oh, and you better put Pharaoh on the leash otherwise you know he’ll follow me.”

“Philip, don’t worry. Dhalia’s always chasing scents; bet she beats us back to the car. Especially as it’s going to be dark soon.”

Nonetheless, Philip started back down the dusty, dirt road, the last rays of the sun pink on the high, forested cliffs about them. This high rocky, forest plateau, in an area known as the Siskiyou Forest, not those many miles from their home in Southern Oregon. It made perfect dog-walking country and rarely did they miss a week-end afternoon out here. However, this particular Saturday afternoon, for reasons Philip was unclear, they had left home much later than usual.

There was no sign of Dhalia ahead on this remote forest road so he struck off left, hoping that she was somewhere up amongst the higher trees and the boulders. Soon he reached the first crest; panting hard. Behind him, across the breath-taking landscape, the setting sun had dipped beneath faraway mountain ridges; a magnificent sight. Suddenly, in the midst of that brief pause, him admiring the perfect evening, a sound echoed around the cliffs. The sound of a dog barking. He bet his life on that being Dhalia. Just as quickly the barking stopped.

The barking started up again, barking that suggested Dhalia was hunting a creature. The sound came from an area of boulders way up above the pine trees on the other side of the small valley ahead of him. Perhaps, Dhalia had trapped herself. More likely, he reflected, swept up in the evening scents of the wilderness, Dhalia had temporarily reverted back to the wild, hunting dog she had been all those years ago. That feral Mexican street dog who in 2005 had tentatively turned away from scavenging in a pile of rubbish in a dirty Mexican town and shyly approached Molly. Molly had named her Dhalia.

He set off down through the dense forest to what he thought was the valley floor. Some thirty minutes later, thirty minutes of hard climbing, had him reach those high boulders.

Philip whistled, then called “Dhalia! Dhalia! Come, there’s a good girl.” Thank God for such a sweet, obedient dog. He anticipated the sound of dog feet scampering through rough undergrowth. But no sound came.

He listened; no sounds, no more barking. Now where had she gone? Perhaps past these boulders down in the next steep ravine beyond him, the one even more densely forested with pine trees. With daylight practically gone he needed to find Dhalia, and find her very soon.

He plunged down the slope, through tree branches that whipped across his face, then fell heavily as his foot found empty space instead of the expected firm ground. Philip cursed, picked himself up and paused. That fall had a message for him: the madness of continuing this search in the near dark. The terrain made very rough going even in good daylight. At night, the boulders and plunging ravines would guarantee a busted body, at best! Plus, he ruefully admitted, he didn’t have a clue as to where he now was, let alone finding his way back to the road where he had left Molly.

The unavoidable truth smacked him full in the face. He would be spending this night alone in the high, open forest. It had one hell of a very scary dimension.

He forced himself not to dwell on just how scary it all felt. He needed to stay busy, find some way of keeping warm; last night at home it had dropped to within a few degrees of freezing. Philip looked around, seeing a possible solution. He broke a small branch off a nearby fir tree and made a crude brush with which he swept up the fallen pine needles he saw everywhere about him. Soon he had a stack sufficient to cover him, or so he hoped. Thank  goodness that when he and Molly had decided to give the five dogs this late afternoon walk, he had put on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, a pullover thrown over his shoulders. It didn’t make Dhalia’s antics any less frustrating but he probably wasn’t going to freeze to death!

The air temperature sank as if connected with the last rays of the sun. Philip’s confidence sank at the same rate as the temperature.

He lay down, shuffled about, swept the pine needles across his body, tried to find a position that carried some illusion of comfort. No matter the position, he couldn’t silence his mind. Couldn’t silence the screaming in his head, his deep, primeval fear of this dark forest about him, his imagination already running away with visions of hostile night creatures, large and small, watching him, smelling him, biding their time. Perhaps he might sleep for a short while?

A moment later the absurdity of that last thought hit him. Caused him to utter aloud, “You stupid sod. There’s no way you’re going to sleep through this!” His words echoed off unseen cliffs in the darkness reinforcing his sense of isolation.

He was very frightened. Why? Where in his psyche did that come from? He had spent many nights alone at sea without a problem, a thousand miles from shore. Then, of course, he knew his location, always had a radio link to the outside world. But being lost in this dark, lonely forest touched something very deep in him. Suddenly, he started shivering.

The slightest movement he made caused the needles to slip from him and the cold night air began to penetrate his body. He tried not to think about how cold it might get and, by extension, thanked his lucky stars that the night was early September not, say, mid-December. So far, not too cold. But it wasn’t long before the fear rather than the temperature started to devour him. What stupid fool said, ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself!’ His plan to sleep under  the pine needles, fear or no fear, had failed; he couldn’t get warm. He had to move.

He looked around and vaguely saw a boulder a few yards away, like some giant, black shadow. No details, just this huge outline etched against the night. He carefully raised himself, felt the remaining needles fall away, and gingerly shuffled across to the dark rock. He half-expected something to bite his extended hand as he explored the surface, ran his hand down towards the unseen ground. Miracle of miracles, the granite gently emitted the warmth absorbed from the day’s sun. He slowly settled himself to the ground, eased his back against the rock-face and pulled his knees up to his chest. He felt so much less vulnerable than he had laying on the forest floor. He let out a long sigh, then burst into tears, huge heart-rending sobs coming from somewhere very far within him.

Gradually the tears washed away his fear, restored a calmer part of his brain. That calmer brain brought the realisation that he hadn’t considered, well not up until now, what Molly must be going through. At least he knew he was alive. Molly, not knowing, would be in despair. He bet she would remember that time when out walking in the Dells down in Arizona they had lost little Poppy, an adorable 10 lb poodle mix, never to be found again despite ages spent combing the area, calling out her name. A year later and Molly still said from time to time, “I so miss Poppy!” First Poppy and now him! No question, he had to get through this in one piece, mentally as much as physically.

Presumably, Molly would have called 911 and been connected to the local search and rescue unit. Would they search for him in the dark? He thought it unlikely.

Thinking about her further eased his state of mind and his shivering stopped. Thank goodness for that! Philip fought to retain this new perspective. He would make it through, even treasure this night under the sky, this wonderful, awesome, night sky. Even the many crowns of the tall trees that soared way up above him couldn’t mask a sky that just glittered with starlight.

It was that heavenly clock that resided in the night sky and tonight offered a magical example of the immensity and grandeur of the universe.

Often during his life the night skies had spoken to him, presented a reminder of the continuum of the universe. On this night, however, he felt more humbled by the hundred, million stars surrounding him than ever before.

Time slipped by, him being unable to read his watch in the darkness. However, above his head there was that vast stellar clock. He scanned the heavens, seeking out familiar pinpoints of light, companions over so much of his lifetime. Ah, there! The Big Dipper, Ursa Major, and, yes, there the North Pole star, Polaris. Great! Now the rotation of the planet became his watch, The Big Dipper sliding around Polaris, fifteen degrees for each hour.

What a situation he had got himself into. As with other challenging times in his life, lost in the Australian bush, at sea hunkering down through a severe storm, never a choice other than to work it out. He felt a gush of emotion from the release this changed perspective gave him.

Far away, a group of coyotes started up a howl. What a timeless sound. How long had coyotes been on the planet? He sank into those inner places of his mind noting how the intense darkness raised correspondingly deep thoughts. What if this night heralded the end of his life, the last few hours of the life of Philip Stevens? What parting message would he give to those that he loved?

Molly would know beyond any doubt how much he had adored her, how her love had created an emotional paradise for him beyond measure. But his son and daughter, dear William and Elizabeth? Oh, the complexities he had created in their lives by leaving their mother so many years ago. He knew that they still harboured raw edges, and quite reasonably so. He still possessed raw edges from his father’s death, way back in 1956. That sudden death, five days before Christmas, so soon after he had turned twelve, that had fed a life-long feeling of emotional rejection. That feeling that lasted for fifty-one years until, coincidentally, also just a few days before Christmas, he had met Molly in 2007.

His thoughts returned to William and Elizabeth. Did they know, without a scintilla of doubt, that he loved them? Maybe his thoughts would find them. Romantic nonsense? Who knows? Dogs had the ability to read the minds of humans, often from far out of visual range. He knew Pharaoh, his devoted German Shepherd, skilfully read his mind.

Philip struggled to remember that saying from James Thurber. What was it now? Something about men striving to understand themselves before they die. Would that be his parting message for William and Elizabeth? Blast, he wished he could remember stuff more clearly these days and let go of worrying about the quote. Perhaps his subconscious might carry the memory back to him.

He looked back up into the heavens. The Big Dipper indicated at least an hour had slipped by. Gracious, what a sky in which to lose one’s mind. Lost in that great cathedral of stars. Then, as if through some stirring of consciousness, that Thurber saying did come back to him: All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.

He reflected on those who, incarcerated in solitary confinement, had their minds play many tricks, especially when it came to gauging time. What a bizarre oddment of information; where had that come from? Possibly because he hadn’t a clue about his present time. It felt later than 11pm and earlier than 4am, but any closer guess seemed impossible. Nevertheless, from out of the terrible, heart-wrenching hours of being alone he had found calm, had found something within him. He slept.

Suddenly, he was slammed fully awake. Something out there in the dark had made a sound. Something that caused his whole body to become totally alert, every nerve straining to recognise what it might be. It sounded like animal feet moving through the autumn fall of dead leaves. He prayed that it wasn’t a mountain lion. Surely, such a wild cat preparing to attack him would be silent. Now the unknown creature had definitely paused, no sound, just Philip knowing that somewhere out there, something was watching him, waiting. Now what! The creature was making a sniffing sound. He hoped it was not a puma. Pumas could make trouble; they had no qualms at attacking a decent-sized dog.

Poised to run, he considered rising but chose to stay still.  Very quietly and gently he moved his fingers around the ground near to him on either side.  A few moments later he closed his right-hand around a small rock. The sniffing stopped. Nothing now, save the sound of his rapidly beating heart. He sensed, sensed strongly, the creature looking at him. It seemed very close, ten or twenty feet away. The adrenalin hammered through his veins.

He tried to focus on the spot where he sensed the animal was waiting; waiting for what? He pushed that idea out of his head. His ears then picked up a weird, bizarre sound. Surely not! Had he lost his senses? It sounded like a dog wagging its tail; flap, flap, flapping against a tree-trunk.

A dog? If a dog, it had to be Dhalia!

Then came that small, shy bark! A bark he knew so well. It was Dhalia. He softly called her, “Come here girl, there’s a good girl.”

With a quick rustle of feet Dhalia leapt upon him, tail wagging furiously, her head quickly burrowing into his body warmth. He hugged her and, once more, the tears ran down his face. Despite the darkness, he could see her perfectly in his mind. Her tight, short-haired coat of light-brown hair, her aquiline face, her bright inquisitive eyes and those wonderful head-dominating ears. Lovely large ears that seemed to listen to the world. A shy, loving dog when Molly had rescued her in 2005 and all these years later still a shy, loving dog.

Dhalia raised her head towards his face and licked his tears, her gentle tongue soft and sweet on his skin. He shuffled more on to his back and that allowed her to curl up on his chest, still enveloped by his arms. His mind drifted off to an era a long time ago, back to an earlier ancient man, likewise arms wrapped around his dog under a dome of stars. This bond between man and dog.  So different to each other yet so closely bonded. Bonded in a thousand mysterious ways.

The morning sun arrived as imperceptibly as an angel’s sigh. Dhalia sensed the dawn before Philip, brought him out of his dreams by the slight gentle stirring of her warm body.

Yes, there it came, the end of this night. The sun galloping towards them across ancient lands, another beat of the planet’s heart. Dhalia slid off his chest, stretched herself from nose to tail, yawned and looked at him, as much to say time to go home! He could just make out the face of his watch: 5.55am. He, too, raised himself, slapped his arms around his body to get some circulation going. The cold air stung his face, yet it couldn’t even scratch the inner warmth of his body, the glow from the bond between him and Dhalia.

They set off.  As they crested the first ridge there ahead, about a mile away, was a forest road busy with arriving search and rescue trucks. Philip could just see Molly’s white Dodge parked ahead of the trucks and he instinctively knew that she and Pharaoh had already disappeared into the forest, knew Pharaoh was leading her to them.

They set off down the slope, Dhalia’s tail wagging with unbounded excitement, Philip ready to start shouting for attention from the next ridge. They were about to wade through a small stream when Pharaoh raced out of the trees from the other side. He tore through the water, barking at the top of his voice in clear dog speak, ‘I’ve found them, they’re here, they’re safe’.  Philip crouched down to receive his second huge face lick in less than six hours.

Later, when safely home, something struck him. When earlier they had set off to find their way back, not long after sunrise, Dhalia had stayed pinned to him. That was so unusual for her not to run off. Let’s face it, that’s what got them into the mess in the first place. Dhalia had stayed with him as if she had known that during that long, dark night, it had been he who had been the lost soul.

Thus came the message from that night, a message as clear as the rays of this new day’s sun, the message to pass to all those he loved. We can only find ourselves from the places where we are lost.


Philip put down the story.  There were tears to his eyes.  Molly had just blown her nose with a paper tissue so he guessed he wasn’t the only one with wet eyes.

She looked at him.

“You know, that story about Dhalia reminds me of the way that Lilly stayed with Ben.”

“Sorry sweetheart, remind me of that again.”

“When Ben was dying, Lilly stayed by his side on the bed every minute of every hour except for a dash outside for a pee from time to time, and to eat her meals. I knew that Ben had died even before going into his bedroom because Lilly had come out from the room and was resting besides me.  Lilly knew that I needed her now more than Ben did.”

There is so much for people to learn from dogs. So many of the ways that dogs behave that show us of what is so desperately missing from these times; from these so-called modern, twenty-first-century times. A time when many believe that our way-of-life is as good as broken.  Broken by the levels of greed, by the lies and abuses of those wielding power and control, riven by the deep inequalities between those with comfortable, material lives and those who struggle to live more than one cruel day at a time.

Dogs live so beautifully in the present. They make the best of each moment uncluttered by the complex fears and feelings that we humans so often chose to have about us. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value.  Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable length of time. Man’s longest animal companion, by far!

There is no archeological evidence of dogs being part of man’s life earlier than thirty-thousand years ago.  However, there is serious consideration by scientists that the grey wolf, from which the dog evolved, was in some way connected to Neanderthal man.  That the earliest dogs became man’s companion, protector and helper and that the relationship between dog and man was critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer.  Allowing our species to evolve to farming the land and, thence, the long journey to present times.

However at some point in the last, say one to two-hundred years, that farming and husbandry spirit became corrupted by selfishness and greed to the point where the planet’s plant, energy and mineral resources were, and still are, seen as an infinitely deep pot.  That corruption producing a blindness to the most important truth in all our lives.  That Planet Earth is man’s only source of life.  Unless and until we return to living in balance and harmony with our planet then we are close to the edge of extinction.  Both a literal and spiritual extinction.

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

4,463 words.

Daisy offers a lesson for all.

A heart-rending, true story of a puppy. (Has a very happy ending!)

Those of you who have read today’s Chapter Eighteen of ‘the book’ will not have escaped the central role played by Philip’s German Shepherd: Pharaoh.

Well a few days ago the following video was sent to me by a good friend, Ginger, from our Payson days.  Won’t say anymore until you have watched it.

Tried hard to find the Facebook page but failed.  However, I did find this article on the Psychology Today website that not only refers to Daisy but offers more on the subject of animal emotions.

Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?
by Marc Bekoff – Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Daisy: The Injured Dog Who Believed She’d Walk Again and Did

Anthrozoology, also called human-animal studies (HAS), is a rapidly growing and expanding interdisciplinary field. A recent and comprehensive review of this wide-ranging discipline can be found in Paul Waldau’s book titled Animal Studies: An IntroductionMany of the essays I write for Psychology Today have something to do with anthrozoology in that they focus on the wide variety of relationships that humans establish with nonhuman animals (animals). Some essays also discuss what we can learn from other animals, including traits such as trust, friendship, forgiveness, love, and hope.

Often, a simple video captures the essence of the deep nature of the incredibly close and enduring bonds we form with other animals and they with us. As a case in point, my recent essay called “A Dog and His Man” showed a dog exuberantly expressing his deep feelings for a human companion he hadn’t seen for six months. Another essay titled “My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals” dealt with the relationship between homeless people and the animals with whom they share their lives.

Daisy: An unforgettable and inspirational symbol of dedication and hope

I just saw another video called “Daisy – the Little Pup Who Believed” that is well-worth sharing widely with others of all ages. There is no way I can summarize the depth of five-month old Daisy’s resolve to walk again after she was injured or of the devotion of the woman, Jolene, who found her on the side of a road – scared, malnourished, unable to walk or wag her tail, the people who contributed money to help her along, or the wonderful veterinarians and staff at Barrie Veterinary Hospital in Ontario, Canada, who took care of her. You can also read about Daisy’s remarkable and inspirational journey here.

Please take five minutes out of your day to watch this video, read the text, listen to the song that accompanies it, and share it widely. I am sure you will get teary as you watch Daisy go from an injured little ball of fur living in a ditch on the side of a road with a broken spine to learning to walk in water to romping around wildly as if life had been that proverbial pail of cherries from the start.

I’ve watched Daisy’s journey many times and every single time my eyes get watery. Among the many lessons in this wonderful video is “stay strong and never give up”. Clearly dogs and many other animals can truly teach us about traits such as trust, friendshipforgiveness, love, and hope.


Daisy - a lesson for all!
Daisy – a lesson for all!

Two closing thoughts.

When you next want a dog please, please think of those dogs who are in shelters.  They must be our first priority.

If there is ever a time when we humans need to learn from dogs the qualities of trust, friendship, forgiveness, love and hope, it is now!

The book! Chapter Twelve.

This blog publishing of chapters may not be that smart!

Publishing the chapters of my NaNo novel since the start of the month has had both positive and negative results.  On the positive side, there’s no question that readers who have clicked the ‘Like’ button have really boosted my morale. On the other hand, it’s been impossible not to notice how on days when a Chapter has been published on the blog, readership levels have fallen, at times dramatically so.

So today is the start of the last six days of NaNoWriMo.  There’s no question that I shall finish the draft of the book. I’m already on the edge of 45,000 words.

However, if I publish four chapters on Learning from Dogs this week, that will bring the total up to 15.  The completed draft of the book will be around 25 chapters, possible one or two more.  To subject you dear readers to another three weeks of four chapters a week seems wrong.

So this is what I propose.

From next Monday I will revert to publishing the range of articles and essays that I have been doing since July 2009.  In other words, a new post every day of the week, just as before.  But, in addition, I will be releasing three of the forthcoming draft Chapters, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

So if you are not into reading the book, just pass those posts by.  If you are, poor soul, then read away to your heart’s content.

Any reactions or comments would be wonderful.

With that, on to the story!


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Twelve

Philip was lost for words.  No, far more than that.  He was lost for words, feelings, reactions, responses.  He was totally and utterly numbed.

Maggie had turned away from him, pulled the bedcover over her head, signalling who knows what.

Philip stood up slowly, practically in a trance, left the bedroom and climbed the stairs up to the living room one slow, deliberate step at a time.  He put his empty tea mug in the cream-coloured plastic washing-up bowl sitting empty in the kitchen sink.  He slowly crossed the living-room and stepped across to the full-length window just to the left of their wood-stove that sat in the corner of the room, the window that looked out over the grass slope that comprised much of their garden area.  Philip looked out over the grass, the birds collecting seeds or whatever they feed on with a Winter’s night rapidly approaching. He looked beyond the grass, beyond to Jimmy Fletcher’s fields, then looked over to his left to where trees ran alongside a small stream that occasional filled with water during periods of rain.  The Western sky was still largely cloud free.  It would be dark within an hour or so.  He was incapable of grasping anything, he was emotionally dead.  In fact he was so disconnected from the world around him that he was barely aware of Pharaoh slipping down from the settee, where he shouldn’t have been in any case, and quietly coming up to his left side.  Pharaoh had sat back on his haunches and touched his wet nose against Philip’s left wrist.  Philip crumbled, his chest heaving and tears flowing from his eyes.  He collapsed down to floor level, put his arms around the only creature in the world, human or canine, that cared for him, and cried his heart out.  Pharaoh gently licked the tears from his cheeks.  It was the release that Philip needed. Slowly over the next ten or fifteen minutes Pharaoh’s clear and obvious concern for Philip brought him back in touch with the world.  And he realised just how angry he was; just how incredibly angry

He was still holding his arms around Pharaoh when he heard the sound of Maggie coming up the stairs.  He turned his head and watched her go across to the kitchen and start putting Pharaoh’s evening meal together.

“Just you stop what you are doing!”, he shouted at her. “Nothing is ever going to be the same now and you don’t need to ask me why!  I’ll be feeding Pharaoh from now on.  He is not your dog, not in the slightest now.”

Maggie turned and went downstairs without a word, indeed without a look towards Philip.

Philip went across to the kitchen area and completed putting Pharaoh’s food together in his stainless-steel bowl.  It was placed on the floor in its usual spot.  He also refreshed Pharaoh’s water bowl.

Pharaoh came over to his food and, in an almost reluctant manner, started to eat.  Philip was of no doubt that the dog was affected by what was going on.  Any dog would have been and Pharaoh was no ordinary dog.  Like most big dogs and especially like other German Shepherds, Pharaoh was incredibly sensitive to the feelings and emotions of those humans in his life.

Philip’s mind was now churning over and over, raising question after question.  How long had Maggie been seeing whoever this bastard was? When did she become pregnant? Was she pregnant when they had gone on holiday to Turkey? That last thought made him sick to his stomach.  The dirty, rotten, two-timing cow! To think that he had been making love to his wife, rediscovering what he believed was their genuinely loving relationship and all the time she had had …… he couldn’t even finish the thought!

He opened the ‘fridge door and took out a beer.  Not even bothering to find a glass, he carried the can across to the settee, pulled the ring-top, took a long mouthful and tried to marshal his thoughts, the one most dominating his mind was the sleeping arrangements for the coming night-time.  The answer came almost immediately for he heard Maggie down in the hallway.  She came up the stairs to the point where she could face him.

“I’ve rung my parents and I’m going across to their place now.  Can’t imagine you want me staying here!”

“Probably best under the circumstances,” came Philip’s gruff response. “Call me in the morning because, believe me, you have got some questions to answer.”

There was no reply from Maggie as she let herself out of the front door.  Philip noticed Pharaoh looking out of the front window, looking intently at her as she started her car and drove down the driveway, pausing only to open the gate, manoeuvre the car to the cul-de-sac, come back and close the gate, and disappear from sight.

He sipped at his beer, deep in thought, trying to re-adjust his whole life.  He looked at the clock, their grand old long-case clock that Philip had spent hundreds of hours bringing back to working order.  In what already seemed like a previous life, he recalled shouting out a ludicrously silly price at a morning auction at the sale rooms in Totnes, back some three or four years ago now.  The item in question had been the oak case of this English clock utterly bereft of any working parts, not even a dial face. Upon querying if there were parts, an auction assistant had simply pointed to a large cardboard box placed by the clock case.  Philip had looked inside the box and seen an incredible jumble of clock bits and pieces, almost as if someone had taken the clock mechanism completely apart and gone on to something else in their life.  Frankly, he hadn’t a clue as to whether everything was there but, hey, worth a punt.

Indeed, it had been very much worth the punt because the auctioneer had opened the bidding with, “So who will give me a hundred pounds for this long-case clock, believed to be early eighteenth century?”  No interest from the fifty or so people clustered around. “What about fifty?  Who will start me there?”  Again, no interest.

Philip had raised his arm, attracted the eye of the auctioneer, and called out, “I’ll bid twenty-five.”

“I’m bid twenty-five pounds for this genuine oak-case English grandfather clock with an eight-day movement.  Anyone raise that to thirty pounds?”

Twenty seconds later the auctioneer’s gavel struck his block, “Sold to the gentleman down to my left for twenty-five pounds!”

It took Philip more than three months to fathom out how to reconstruct the intricate parts of the clock’s movement, aided by many visits to Totnes Museum that was beautifully situated within an authentic Elizabethan Merchant’s House that included a number of working long-case clocks.  In fact, Philip had gone there so regularly that, under supervision, he was allowed to open a couple of the clock cases to better understand how the clock movements functioned.

Philip reluctantly dragged himself back from pleasant memories of earlier times to the reality of this evening of December 20th. His eyes focused on the time; it was a little after five P.M.  Completely on the spur of the moment he realised that over in California it would be something after nine in the morning.  Philip picked up the phone and dialled Danny’s mobile phone number.

Within a couple of rings the call was answered, “Hey, this is Dan.”

Philip quickly established that Danny was out walking in the desert with his dog Wendy.

“So how goes it Philip?”

“Danny, just got an early Christmas present from Maggie.”  Philip went on to explain what had happened just a few hours ago.

Danny’s response was clear and direct, “Hey man, ain’t that the works.  Hell, I’m so sorry to hear that. Man, life can be such a bitch at times.”

Philip heard Danny calling Wendy back from something it sounded she was chasing.  He then continued, “Hey, just been thinking.  You get your arse out to California now, you just come on over.”

“Danny, I would so love to do that.  But, hey dear friend, just not possible right now as I’m facing a pile of shit a mile high.  But, trust me, just as soon as I’m clear I’ll be there. No doubt at all.”

1,420 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Seven.

Half-way through the month.

I have taken a break from book writing to get today’s post ready.  I’m 100 words short of 25,000 words and will stick at it until I’m over the 50% word-count before the end of today, Thursday.

Very conscious that many readers having got very used to my usual style of posts may be finding the change a little uninviting.  Not a lot I can say other than I understand.  NaNoWriMo do encourage all those November novelists who are bloggers to subject, sorry to offer, their readers the writings!


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Seven

The year 2003 did not have a great deal left in it and in what seemed like no time at all, New Year’s Day 2004 had been and gone.  By the middle of January of the new year, Philip had settled into the regular trip across to Angela, the country journey not anything other than a pleasant forty-minute drive from home with Angela’s place coincidentally not a million miles from Sandra’s kennels at Hennock, where Pharaoh had been born.

It was certainly a higher elevation than Harberton and, potentially, a place to become snow-bound.  But as January rolled into February, and while there were plenty of days of Devon rain, snow did not arrive.

As Angela had intimated would be the case, Pharaoh was nothing other than a gentleman during his days of obedience consolidation with Philip.  During February, when Pharaoh had become accustomed to wearing a muzzle, Philip started walking with Pharaoh around their favourite spots in Totnes.  Indeed, the walk from the Safeway car park by the river, up along Fore Street, underneath Eastgate arch where the road became Totnes High Street and all the way up to the old Totnes Castle, was settling into a regular event, often on the way back from visiting Angela.

What was interesting to note was that the sight of Pharaoh, this large German Shepherd dog wearing a muzzle, caused much more consternation for onlookers than it did for Pharaoh.

They had been resting one afternoon on a bench by the Castle after a brisk walk up through the centre of Totnes, when Philip distinctly heard a man, father he presumed, speak to the little girl with him and caution her that the dog was a most dangerous animal and not to go near it, because nice dogs don’t wear muzzles!

When they were walking around the Totnes streets, while Pharaoh would occasionally mutter a low growl towards a person, or more often towards another dog, there wasn’t even the hint of an aggressive move.  It was almost as though when Pharaoh was on the leash and wearing a muzzle, he had happily deferred his role as protector to Philip.  No, not deferred but swapped roles as if Philip was both minder and protector of the two of them.

Then on the first Wednesday in March, at the end of their obedience class, Angela turned to Philip and said, “Philip, I can’t teach you two anything more.  Pharaoh has got so used to your personality that he is way beyond rigid command formats.  He can read your whole demeanour, probably better than Maggie.”

Philip mused privately that that didn’t take too much for a dog to know him better than Maggie.

Sandra added, “And there’s no doubt that you, Philip, can read Pharaoh’s demeanour as well.”

There was a pause.

“What I have been thinking is that it’s time to have Pharaoh use his fabulous teaching skills to work with some of the dogs that truly need some help.  Could the two of you come over on Saturday, say at ten o’clock?”

“Angela, Saturday would be so much less of an issue than a week-day.  For reasons I’m not sure about, my mentoring client list is growing at the moment.”

The rest of the week flowed by as the weeks so often do and Saturday was upon them. It wasn’t much after eight-thirty in the morning when he nosed his car down their driveway, closed the gate behind him and set off to Angela’s place; Pharaoh already curled up in the back of the Volvo.

“Oh, good morning Philip,” Angela called out as he parked the car in what was now his usual place.

“Let’s leave Pharaoh in the car for a moment while I talk you through the plan.  Just follow me.”

Angela lead the way between a couple of barns and there, just beyond, was a fenced paddock, possibly a half-acre in size.  There were a couple of bench seats elevated a few feet but some way back from the perimeter fence.

“Philip, this is where we are going to have Pharaoh work with the guest dog.  She’s a female grey-hound that the owner wished to introduce to greyhound racing, at the greyhound stadium in Plymouth.  Her name is Betsy . However, when Betsy’s owner, Gordon, took Betsy to the stadium the first time, she was so aggressive in going for the other runners that, even with a muzzle, a requirement for racing, Betsy was acting up to the point where it was impossible for her to be with any of the other dogs.”

“OK, understood so far,” Philip replied, “but how will Pharaoh engage with Betsy?”

Angela responded, “I suggest we let Pharaoh into the paddock together with your goodself.  Then you slide out when you can, which I suspect will not be long, because Pharaoh will be fascinated by the smells of many other dogs. You can quietly settle back on the upper bench seat and when I sense Pharaoh is ready, I’ll have Gordon bring Betsy just inside the gate of the paddock, let Betsy off her leash, and stay quietly to one side.”

“OK, Angela, all understood.  How do you expect Pharaoh and Betsy to react to each other?”

Angela smiled, “Let me just say that I have an extremely good hunch as to what will happen, but just for now I’m going to hold back on making any predictions!”

“Oh, you can go and bring Pharaoh over now, don’t want him to feel any rush getting to know the smells of the paddock.”

Philip walked back to the Volvo, let Pharaoh down from the car and lead him through to the paddock.  Pharaoh happily followed despite being off-leash stopping only briefly to have a couple of pees.

Once at the paddock, Philip went through the open gate with Pharaoh and waited quietly just inside the gate.  Pharaoh naturally started sniffing around and exploring this new environment. A few moments later Philip gently opened the gate, slipped out, re-closed the gate and lent across the top bar watching his wonderful dog. Angela remained where she had first gone to, leaning on the top rail of the paddock fence just to the right of the gate, looking in on Pharaoh.

She silently pointed to Philip for him to slip back and be seated on the elevated bench seat.

The sound of a car door being closed caused Angela to disappear back out between the two barns.  Pharaoh had raised his head and was looking and listening intently towards the source of the sound.

A few minutes later, Angela and Gordon appeared, Gordon leading Betsy on a leash.  They walked up to the outside of the closed paddock gate.  Betsy started eyeing Pharaoh with a very direct stare.

Pharaoh started to walk towards them.  Betsy gave a deep-throated growl causing Pharaoh to pause in his walk and observe her.

“Gordon, let me have Betsy on her leash.”

Angela took Betsy’s leash and very gently lifted the gate latch and cracked the gate open by six inches or so.

“Pharaoh, there’s a good boy.  Pharaoh stay. Good boy,” came Angela’s softly formed words yet using her words as a cover to open the gate just sufficient for both Betsy and her to enter the paddock, Angela then closing the gate behind them.

There was a pause of perhaps a minute where nothing moved. Angela gently let her fingers run down Betsy’s leash and softly unlatched the lead from Betsy’s collar.

Again, Betsy’s eyes were fixated on Pharaoh and, likewise, he seemed to be assessing just what Betsy represented.

Angela softly slipped open the gate, slipped through and held the gate closed yet unlatched.  She was confident there were not going to be any panics but it never paid to be complacent.

Pharaoh did a quarter-turn with his head to the left and seemed about to sniff the ground near his front paws.

Betsy suddenly growled and started towards Pharaoh but stopped in less than two paces.  For Pharaoh had immediately turned his head back to face Betsy’s face full-on, giving her the most compelling message of perhaps rethinking what she had in mind.  Well that’s the message that Philip saw in Pharaoh’s face.  A facial look that Philip had never seen on Pharaoh before now yet, nonetheless, seemed utterly clear.  So imagine what unspoken words were picked up by Betsy; that old business of dogs speaking dog to each other so much better than humans speaking dog!

There was a pause where nothing changed.  Then Pharaoh, again, turned his head a little to his left. Betsy took a step towards Pharaoh but noticeable without the aggressive overlay of before.

Pharaoh turned his head and looked back at Betsy.  However, now his facial message, as Philip interpreted it, was Pharaoh saying to Betsy that this was getting boring and that he still hadn’t finished sniffing out the new smells around here.

Then Philip saw, hardly believing his eyes, Pharaoh wander over to the far fence line, pee on an upright wooden fence post, and continue following the fence line around to the left, as in left from Philip’s perspective.  Betsy stayed rooted to where she was.  Not even turning an eye as Gordon came up and sat down next to Philip.

Any sense of time passing was beyond grasp.  However, when Pharaoh had walked away from that marked fence post by, say, thirty or forty feet, Betsy almost imperceptibly looked at the fence post, possibly some twenty feet from her, and in what might be described as a casual gait, walked across to the post.  She sniffed the bottom of the post where Pharaoh’s pee had run down to the ground.  She sniffed long and hard and then turned around and walked a few yards in Pharaoh’s direction, he having now paused in his stroll along the fence line, his head turned back to watch Betsy.

The next action by Betsy brought an audible gasp to Gordon’s lips.  For Betsy calmly and quietly settled down on the dusty ground, tummy against the bare earth, paws straight ahead, head lowered, eyes watching Pharaoh.

Pharaoh then turned in towards the prone Betsy, gently walked towards her, sniffed her rear quarters, walked around to the other side of her and just looked at her for a few moments.  Then he eased himself forward, lowering his head a little. Their doggy world seemed to come to a halt for a few moments, then Pharaoh and Betsy came together and simply touched wet nose to wet nose.

Philip and Gordon both came down from their seats and stood next to Angela.  Both of them couldn’t avoid noticing that Angela had silent tears running down both cheeks.  Not a word was spoken, not a word needed to be spoken.

Gently, all three of them, Angela, Gordon and Philip, slipped quietly into the paddock and enjoyed what was happening in front of them.  Almost as though their pleasure at the outcome was fuelling the moods in the two dogs, Pharaoh and Betsy each took up a behaviour that could only be described as a couple of dogs being relaxed and comfortable with each other.

Angela slipped out and returned a few moments later with some dog biscuits in her hands, the large chunky ones shaped roughly to look like a bone.  She walked up to Pharaoh, stroked him on the head and offered him a biscuit.  He took the biscuit and settled down to nibble it.

Angela then went across to Betsy and repeated the biscuit giving. Betsy settled down to eat her biscuit.

Upon coming back to the gents, she said, “OK, it all happened more or less as I anticipated.  Pharaoh has given us a copy-book example of a strong, dominant teaching dog behaving in his natural role as a minder dog.”

Gordon was practically unable to keep his beaming face under control.  He bubbled out the question, “So what happens next, Angela?”

“Well, I would like to repeat what we set up today one more time, just to be sure, although I have not the slightest doubt it will be fine.

Then, we’ll have Betsy and Pharaoh come again but keep Pharaoh to one side while I introduce Betsy to another dog that is dominant but not a teaching dog.  In other words, more likely to trip Betsy into her old ways.  If that happens we will bring Pharaoh in and he will adjudicate.  Then next time round, we will introduce Betsy to an even less disciplined dog, again more or less aiming for the conditions where Betsy will learn a strategy for keeping her own temptations under control.”

Angela added, “There’s no doubt whatsoever that Betsy, sooner than you can imagine, will be a settled dog and ready to go dog racing if that’s what is right for her.”

Angela had a cheeky grin on her face, “Sorry, I meant what’s right for you, Gordon.  OK, I’ll confess, I’m not a fan of dog racing!”

2,185 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Six.

Where Philip truly embraces the history, the very long history of man and dog.

I left Chapter Five with the lead character, Philip, having been given a detailed introduction into the social order of dogs, especially the roles and attributes of the three teaching dogs: Mentor, Minder and Nannie and realising that his German Shepherd dog, Pharaoh, was a Minder teaching dog (as he is in real life!).

One of our friends from our Payson days, dear MaryA, has been reading the chapters as they have been published in this place.  Her comment in a subsequent telephone conversation was that she found it a bit too intricate, a bit too drawn-out.  That accorded with Jeannie’s view.

It’s clear that much of the so-called fictional writing is highly auto-biographical.  I have no idea whether or not the ‘novel’ gets rejected because of that, or even if rejection is even part of what follows when the 50,000 words are achieved.

But anyone who knows my real life story will not have too much trouble reading between the lines of the fictional account of Philip’s life.

The consequence of this is that, at times, the words flow very easily because it’s very real in my own mind.  Thus too much detail, too much minutia, is a valid criticism.  Then again, the pressure of writing an average of 1,667 words a day, day in and day out, makes ‘dumping’ lots of detail feel rewarding because one is keeping up.  Just as an aside, at the time of writing this post, 3:30pm yesterday, Pacific Time, the NaNoWriMo counter shows that 21,720 words have been written against a requirement by the end of today, Day 13, for 21,677!  I have written for about three hours today. I’m 43 words ahead!

OK, enough of that. Here’s Chapter Six.


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Six

Yet again his return to Harberton had him describing to Maggie outcomes so very different to what he had been expecting when he had left the house. It was starting to be an expectation.  That, try as hard as he could to predict what he and Pharaoh were off to do, within a few hours of leaving home he would be returning with a report of events totally unanticipated.

However, these serendipitous and surprising events shared one common journey.  That journey of Philip better understanding the reality of his relationship with dogs in general, and with Pharaoh in particular. The visit to Angela earlier in the morning being outstanding in this regard; he would forever look at Pharaoh with different eyes.

He spent the afternoon pottering about the house and after supper settled down in front of the fire and picked up the article that Angela had given him as he and Pharaoh left her place.

Twenty minutes later, having read the article, he looked across to Maggie, who had settled down in an easy chair just opposite him, the fire creating a mood of comfort and contentment all around, and said, “Wow, Maggie, I had absolutely no idea that the relationship of humans with dogs went so far back in time.  This article is mind-blowing. It’s by a Dr. George Johnson who, according to his bio, is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis.”

Philip went on to say, a smile across his face, in a more-or-less throwaway manner, “You know some day I must really understand what an emeritus professor means. Ah well!”

“Why don’t you read the article to me,” came Maggie’s reply.

“Alright, that would be nice.  Let me skip the opening paragraph and go straight to the heart of what Johnson writes.”

He ran his eye down the page.

“Apparently, the author had a dog called Boswell who died from choking on a chicken bone, which sort of raises some questions, but anyway then  Johnson writes in his second paragraph.

This week I found myself wondering about Boswell’s origins. From what creature did the domestic dog arise? Darwin suggested that wolves, coyotes, and jackals — all of which can interbreed and produce fertile offspring — may all have played a role, producing a complex dog ancestry that would be impossible to unravel. In the 1950s, Nobel Prize-winning behaviourist Konrad Lorenz suggested some dog breeds derive from jackals, others from wolves.

Based on anatomy, most biologists have put their money on the wolf, but until recently there was little hard evidence, and, as you might expect if you know scientists, lots of opinions.”

Philip looked up. “Is this OK for you? Am I reading clearly?”

“Yes, of course,” Maggie replied.

Philip again looked down at the paper, continuing, “The issue was finally settled in 1997 by an international team of scientists led by Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. To sort out the evolutionary origin of the family dog, Wayne and his colleagues used the techniques of molecular biology to compare the genes of dogs with those of wolves, coyotes and jackals.

Wayne’s team collected blood, tissue, or hair from 140 dogs of sixty-seven breeds, and 162 wolves from North America, Europe, Asia, and Arabia. From each sample they extracted DNA from the tiny organelles within cells called mitochondria.”

Philip paused, took a couple of breaths, and carried on.

“While the chromosome DNA of an animal cell derives from both parents, the mitochondrial DNA comes entirely from the mother. Biologists love to study mitochondrial DNA because of this simple line of descent, female-to-female-to-female. As changes called mutations occur due to copying mistakes or DNA damage, the mitochondrial DNA of two diverging lines becomes more and more different. Ancestors can be clearly identified when you are studying mitochondrial DNA, because clusters of mutations are not shuffled into new combinations like the genes on chromosomes are. They remain together as a particular sequence, a signature of that line of descent.”

Philip again paused, looked up at Maggie. “Have to say I’m not completely clear just what the author is explaining here but, as you will hear, the crux of the findings is unmistakable.”

Turning back to the article, he continued, “When Wayne looked at his canine mitochondrial DNA samples, he found that wolves and coyotes differ by about 6% in their mitochondrial DNA, while wolves and dogs differ by only 1%. Already it smelled like the wolf was the ancestor.

Wayne’s team then focused their attention on one small portion of the mitochondrial DNA called the control region, because it was known to vary a lot among mammals. Among the sixty seven breeds of dogs, Wayne’s team found a total of 26 different sequences in the control region, each differing from the others at one or a few sites. No one breed had a characteristic sequence — rather, the breeds of dogs share a common pool of genetic diversity.”

Philip again looked up at Maggie.

“This is where it gets fascinating,” and looking back down, went on to read, “Wolves had 27 different sequences in the control region, none of them exactly the same as any dog sequence, but all very similar to the dog sequences, differing from them at most at 12 sites along the DNA, and usually fewer.

Coyote and jackal were a lot more different from dogs than wolves were. Every coyote and jackal sequence differed from any dog sequence by at least 20 sites, and many by far more.

That settled it. Dogs are domesticated wolves.”

The dog’s origin is the wolf. Philip paused, wanting the significance of this to settle over the two of them.  Or, perhaps, better said, settle over the three of them, for Pharaoh was laying prone on his tummy with his head resting between both outstretched front paws.  He was far from sleeping.  One could almost imagine that he was as engrossed in the findings of Dr. George Johnson as Maggie appeared to be.

Philip continued, “Using statistical methods to compare the relative similarity of the sequences, Wayne found that all the dog sequences fell into four distinct groups. The largest, containing 19 of the 26 sequences and representing 3/4 of modern dogs, resulted from a single female wolf lineage. The three smaller groups seem to represent later events when other wolves mated with the now-domesticated dogs. Domestication, it seems, didn’t happen very often, and perhaps only once.”

Again, Philip looked up, “Maggie, just listen to this last paragraph.

The large number of different dog sequences, and the fact that no wolf sequences are found among them, suggests that dogs must have been separated from wolves for a long time. The oldest clear fossil evidence for dogs is 12,000 – 14,000 years ago, about when farming arose. But that’s not enough time to accumulate such a large amount of mitochondrial DNA difference. Perhaps dogs before then just didn’t look much different from wolves, and so didn’t leave dog-like fossils. Our species first developed speech and left Africa about 50,000 years ago. I bet that’s when dogs came aboard, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors first encountered them. They would have been great hunting companions.”

Philip put the article down on the low wooden table in front of the settee. Pharaoh rolled over on to his side and closed his eyes.

“Just think, Maggie, humans have had a relationship with dogs for fifty thousand years. It really does feel that we humans were only able to evolve from the life-style of hunter-gatherer to that of farmer because of dogs.  By that I mean that dogs helped us to be such successful hunters; that we became so well nourished that we weren’t living hand-to-mouth, as it were.  Plus that dogs could protect us as we cleared the lands and became farmers of nature’s bounty.”

There was a silence in the living room.  A silence that flowed from both Maggie and Philip letting the enormity of these findings work their way into their consciousnesses. Fifty thousand years. It was almost beyond grasp.  Surely no other animal has been so bound to the fortunes of humans as the dog.  Philip had no intellectual or educational background, no objective means, to embrace this finding in anything other than a deeply subjective, emotional way.  He couldn’t articulate what it surely had to mean for the animal species, dog, to have been living, and dying, in such close association to the human species, man, for fifty thousand years.  “Phew!” was the only sound to escape his lips.

“Just going to step outside, Maggie.”

“OK,” she replied.  “Oh, looks as though Pharaoh’s coming out with you.”

Philip and Pharaoh stood on that gravelly front level just down from the front door.  It was a crystal clear night.  In the cul-de-sac where they lived, the glow of room-lights from many other homes was shining out through drawn curtains in numerous windows.

Overhead, the scale of the night sky spoke to him.  Those twinkling stars seemed to offer the same feelings of time and distance as those years of the relationship between man and dog.  That distant starlight that had been journeying for inconceivable amounts of time arriving here, at this very moment, this very instance, shining down on man and dog that, likewise, had been on an incredible journey; shining down on Philip and Pharaoh.

1,580 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Two.

Words after words after words!

The completion of the draft of Chapter Two, very much a draft you’ll find, brings the total words to-date to 4,730.  That’s not counting Chapter Three that is more or less finished at around 3,000 words and Chapter Four, three-quarters finished at 1,650 words.  For a grand total as at the end of the 5th November of 9,380 words!  So a little over 1,000 words ahead of the game until tomorrow, the 6th, comes and I’m then 600 words behind the curve.

So, trust me, the 1,667 words required each day is relentless.

But I’m enjoying it! 🙂

So here is Chapter Two and tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll give you wonderful readers a break from The Book!


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Two

Days slipped into weeks with young Pharaoh settling down so perfectly well.  Philip was fortunate that just a little over five miles away his nephew, James, had thirty acres of land near Staverton, of which fifteen were woods.  Even better, the entire property surrounded by a stock-proof fence.

So almost from day one, Philip would put Pharaoh into the back of the Volvo and drive across to those secluded acres for an hour or so of exploring all the smells that Mother Nature could offer.  Indeed, by the end of October it was a routine that each of them looked forward to.  Pharaoh would busy himself in ways that only a dog can do, totally lost in his world of these trees.  Philip would settle himself down on an old stump and just let his wonderful dog have the time of his life.  That dog was becoming such a great companion and his already deep bond with the young Pharaoh and the dog’s clear devotion in return to him fed some very deep emotional needs.

This yearning for a dog, specifically for a German Shepherd dog, had links back to very early times in his life.  Way back to 1956 when he was just eleven-years-old.  That Summer when his father had offered to look after a nearby couple’s German Shepherd because they had to travel to Australia and would be away for six weeks.  That late Summer having the dog so quickly settle in at home, so quickly the dog allowing young Philip to play with it, stroke it, cuddle up to it.  Having Boy, for that was the simple and straightforward name for the dog, sleep in his bedroom.  It was instant love for Boy by Philip.  Those six weeks had been precious beyond description resulting in them becoming a life-long, unforgettable, enchanting memory.  So deeply linked to the event that was to change Philip’s life forever. For just six weeks after he turned twelve his father died suddenly and unexpectedly at night; just five days before Christmas.  The pain of his father’s sudden death in such contrast to the purest love he had felt for Boy, such extremes of joy and sorrow, would haunt Philip for decades.

Philip was conscious that he was leaving it a little late to sign up for dog training classes but in many ways Pharaoh was learning naturally and rapidly from both Philip and Maggie.  He would listen intently to what was being spoken in the house.  He had quickly learned the meaning of ‘Sit’, ‘Stand’, ‘Lie down’ and a host of other more complex communications.  Within just a couple of weeks Pharaoh knew that when Philip said to Maggie, “Guess I better take Pharaoh for a walk!”, the dog would get so over-excited that Philip quickly amended saying the word ‘walk’ to spelling it out ’w-a-l-k’.  But within days of that change Pharaoh had learnt that spelling out the word didn’t change the intention, and the over-excitement returned.  Nevertheless, the time for training was now if Philip was to take Pharaoh anyplace where there would be other people and dogs.  Plus Pharaoh was rapidly losing his puppyhood and growing into a significant male German Shepherd.

Philip rang Sandra and she recommended the South Brent Dog Classes just a few miles away from home. So that first Saturday afternoon in November, grey clouds spilling down from the moors, a hint of drizzle in the air, Philip drove West out of Totnes along the Ashburton Road.  Pharaoh instinctively new something was up despite him so frequently being put in the back of the old Volvo Estate every time he was taken for walks.

The road meandered out of Totnes through green country hills where the sheep population far outnumbered humans.  Totnes itself was surrounded by hills and dales as well as acres of green grasslands, the latter so closely cropped by sheep. Every fold in those hills seemed to hold either an ancient wood or an even older village that still felt so strongly connected with the long-ago settlements that preceded these havens.  Names such as Berry Pomeroy, Stoke Gabriel, Dartington, Asprington, Harberton, Diptford, Rattery, Littlehempston; such echoes of times long gone. Philip mused about the history of Totnes, the ancient legend of Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, first coming ashore here.  Presumably, he pondered, because the town is at the head of the estuary of the River Dart and the Dart is one of the first safe anchorages along the Northern coastline of the English Channel, up from the South-West tip of Cornwall. In fact, set into the pavement of Fore Street in Totnes is the ‘Brutus Stone’.  It’s a small granite boulder onto which, according to that legend, Brutus first stepped from his ship, proclaiming, ”Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.”  Philip pondered that the likelihood of the legend being true was pretty low.  But it was a great tourist magnet!

Just six miles later, Pharaoh still sitting erect intently watching the passing cars, Philip drove across the flyover that spanned the main Exeter to Plymouth road, the A38.  Seemingly always busy, whatever the time of day, or day of the week, the speeding cars were throwing up a road spray as the drizzle had now deteriorated into a steady light rain.

Philip turned onto the B3372, that meandering country lane that ran into South Brent.  He had been told to watch out for a five-acre field to the right just before entering South Brent; that was where the classes were held, come all weathers!

The open field gate and half-a-dozen parked cars made the location obvious.  Philip drove carefully in, parked on a gravel parking area, leaving some distance from the smart, white Ford van to his right-hand side, and turned the engine off.

The ignition key had hardly been dropped into his coat pocket when Pharaoh erupted into a frenzy of barking. Thirty yards away a cheerful Cocker Spaniel was being walked across to the gathering group of dogs and respective owners and this clearly had triggered the barking.

Pharaoh’s nose was pressed up against the tailgate glass, his whole body tense, ears erect, tail straight out.  This was a dog in attack posture.  The sound of barking was overwhelming in the confined space of the car.

“Pharaoh! Shut it! Quiet!”, shouted Philip.

Pharaoh stopped barking but was still quivering all over, giving every indication of wanting to jump out of the car and beat up the Cocker Spaniel.

This was not what Philip had anticipated; far from it.

Philip swung his legs out of the car, stood up and closed the door.  He better find the person in charge of the class and get acquainted with the routine.  The rain was typical for Dartmoor!  Fine rain that seemed to have a way of working its way through the most tightly buttoned coats.  He pulled his coat collar up around the back of his neck and walked across to where a group of people were standing together, perhaps half of them with dogs held close to them on leashes.

As Philip approached the group, a woman, perhaps early middle-age, her dark-brown hair spilling out from under a leaf-green felt hat, caught his eye.  She walked over to them, her blue jeans tucked into black Wellington boots.

“Hallo, you look like a first-timer?”

“Yes, that’s correct.  Name’s Philip. Philip Stevens from Harberton together with my German Shepherd, Pharaoh.”

“Well welcome to the class.  My name is Deborah Longland and I’m the instructor around here.  Call me Debbie; most do!”

Philip quickly guessed she was an experienced and supportive coach.  Just something about her that way.

“Was that Pharaoh that I heard barking a few moments ago?”, Debbie asked.

“Yes, first time he has behaved like that.”

Debbie was looking across at the Volvo. “Strong, male German Shepherd, I don’t doubt. Not uncommon at all,” she replied, continuing, “Leave him in the car until I have the first class underway.”

Debbie went on to explain, “We have the regulars walk around that grass area over there with all their dogs on leashes.  This gets them settled down.  Then we reinforce the usual commands, as you will see.”

Philip looked to where Debbie was indicating.  The nearest corner of the grassland that must have been three or four acres had an area that showed clear previous signs of dogs and owners walking round in a wide circle.

“After that, in about twenty minutes,” Debbie continued, “then we will bring Pharaoh in with, perhaps, just two or three other dogs, and see how he behaves.”

Then adding, “Once the first class is running, I suggest you give Pharaoh a bit of a walk around the far part of the field.  Get him adjusted to the environment.”

“Oh, I presume Pharaoh is settled on the leash?” Debbie added as an afterthought.

Philip replied, “Yes, he’s fine on his lead.  In fact, he walks well with me despite no formal heeling lessons.”

Debbie came back at him. “Shepherds are incredibly intelligent dogs and I can tell just from the way you speak about him that the two of you are very close.  Catch you later, must dash now.”

Philip went back to the car and reached in to the rear brown, pseudo-leather bench-seat and picked up Pharaoh’s leash.  It was a handsome affair, even if was just a dog lead.  Sandra Chambers from the breeding kennels had recommended the type, a leash that had two length settings.  More importantly, the supple, heavy-duty leather leash had a hand loop just six inches up from the snap catch.  This allowed Philip to hold the leash in his left hand with Pharaoh having no freedom to be anything other than close to Philip’s left leg, the recommended arrangement for walking a dog on a lead. Right from the first moment that Pharaoh had been taken across to James’ woods, Philip had taught Pharaoh to ‘heel’ on the leash as they walked the grassy track down to the woods.  It wasn’t long before Pharaoh would obediently remain close to Philip’s side without any pulling on his lead, even with the leash at full length.  But how would it be today?

Philip leaned over the back of the bench-seat and clipped the lead onto Pharaoh’s collar before slipping back out from the car and closing the side door.  He walked around to the tailgate and inched it open; sufficient to slip his arm inside and grab the leash.  With his other arm, he raised the tailgate to its full extent.  Pharaoh sat on his haunches just staring at everything.

“Pharaoh, down you get, there’s a good boy.”

Pharaoh dropped down on to the grass and looked up at Philip. It was clear that this was all very unfamiliar territory, for the first time in his young Shepherd’s life.

Philip gave him a couple of quick commands. “Pharaoh, stand! Pharaoh, heel!”

With that, Philip stepped, left foot forward, and Pharaoh was right on the mark.

It was a walk of a couple of hundred paces to get them to the far corner of the field.  The ground had risen in their direction and now when Philip had Pharaoh sit and they looked back across the field and beyond to the rolling South Hams countryside so typical of South Devon, the view, even with the light rain, was so comforting; so homely.

Despite a lifetime of living in so many places, both within the UK, and overseas, this part of Devon felt so strongly connected to the person he was, that this was his home, where his roots were.  That Acton, his place of birth in North London, just happened to be a technicality in his life’s journey.

Before they knew it, the first group was leaving the walking area and it was time to experience Pharaoh’s first obedience class!

They waited just to one side.  Debbie came across.

“Philip, do you know what Pharaoh is like with other dogs?”

“No experience whatsoever,” he replied, continuing “We live over at Harberton but I have access to private woods at Staverton.  Pharaoh is walked there most days. So I have never walked him in a public place and have no intention of doing that until he’s been properly trained and assessed; by you, I guess.”

“OK, let’s take it cautiously.  Walk Pharaoh into the centre of the exercise area, have him sit, hold him close to on his leash.”

Debbie was quiet in thought for a few moments, unaware, it seemed, of the rain water that looked as though it were soaking into the crown of her hat.

“We have many dogs here today, although no Shepherds. I will ask a few of the owners to walk their dogs, dogs I know well, one at a time in a circle about you and Pharaoh, coming in closer each time if it all runs to plan.”

Philip walked Pharaoh to that centre spot.

“Pharaoh, sit!” He did so without hesitation.

A black, female Labrador and her owner, a gent wearing a black, full-length raincoat over brown hiking boots, the gent’s right hand carrying a wooden walking-stick, detached themselves from the group of dogs and owners and commenced to walk obliquely around them.

Philip reinforced his instructions to Pharaoh. “Pharaoh, Stay! Sit, there’s a good boy!”

Debbie was thirty feet away watching the proceedings carefully.

“Tom,” Debbie called out to the circling gent, “Come in just a few feet and continue circling Pharaoh.”

So far, so good.

“OK Tom, that’s fine.  Going to move on to Geoff and his dog.”

Tom and the Lab returned to the owner’s group and a younger man, perhaps in his late twenties, came across with a smaller, creamy coloured male dog.  To Philip eye’s the dog looked like a Pit Bull or a Pit Bull mix.

The dog was a far less settled creature than the Lab, and Terry, for the name of the dog immediately became clear, was prompted several times to heel.

Terry and his owner approached the circling zone.  Pharaoh started to bristle, the hairs on the nape of his soft, brown neck lifting in anticipation of something, something only known to Pharaoh.

“Pharaoh, sit,” Philip voiced sternly as he noticed Pharaoh’s rear quarters just lifting up from the wet grass.

As Geoffrey and Terry circled around the rear of Philip and Pharaoh, Pharaoh squirmed his body and head so as to keep an eye on this other dog.

Then it happened!

As the Pit Bull arrived off to Philip’s right side, about eight feet away, Pharaoh sprang at the dog.  It was not entirely unexpected by Philip but even so, even with Pharaoh being held at short rein, the jump practically dragged Philip off his feet.  He had no idea that Pharaoh had such power in his legs now.  He was just a little over four months old!

“Pharaoh, No! Come here! Come back!” Philip combined shouting angry commands with dragging Pharaoh back to his left side.  Pharaoh begrudgingly obeyed but continued barking fiercely, standing erect on all four legs, lips curled back exposing his fangs and teeth; indeed everything about him signalling to the Pit Bull that Pharaoh was a deeply unhappy animal.

Debbie signalled to Geoff to retreat from the area and, as quickly as Pharaoh became upset, he settled down and squatted back on his haunches.

Debbie walked across to Philip.

“I’m terribly sorry to say this,” Debbie said quietly to Philip, “but I think you have a German Shepherd with an aggression issue.”

“Until you get that sorted, I just can’t take the risk of Pharaoh coming to these classes.  Under the circumstances, I’ll waive today’s training fee.”

With that Debbie returned to the other owners.

Philip was gutted.  Utterly shocked to his core.  The dog that meant so much to him had been rejected.  That rejection was as much his rejection as it was Pharaoh’s.

2,692 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter One.

So far, so good!

Yesterday, I offered you, dear reader, my foreword, as it were.  It was a fictional account of the coming together of man and grey wolf that over many thousands of years led to the domesticated dog that so many millions of us know and love.

Yes, it’s fiction but it’s not entirely improbable.  I say that because on the 20th May this year, I wrote about a meeting with a Grey Wolf that had been born in captivity yet not born a tame creature, far from it.  The post was called Musings on Love and included this picture of that Grey Wolf, Tundra.  The picture was taken by me just a few moments before I received a gentle lick on the face.

Wolf meets man.
Wolf meets man.


Moving on.  This is Chapter One set some 30,000 years, give or take, after Omo reached out to those injured wolf cubs.  Bet she had no idea what she started! 😉

Once again, all feedback welcomed.  Your support, as conveyed yesterday, is incredible.  Thank you so much.


Learning from Dogs

Chapter One

Philip stood very still as Sandra approached with the golden-brown puppy in her arms.  The puppy was an exquisite, miniature version of the fully-grown German Shepherd dogs that were on view elsewhere about Sandra’s kennels.

It was unusually warm this September day and Philip had unbuttoned the cuffs of his blue-white checked cotton shirt and folded his shirt sleeves back above both elbows.  Sandra offered the young, male puppy to Philip and he took it tenderly into his arms and cradled the gorgeous creature against his chest.  The pup’s warm body seemed to glow through its gleaming fur and the moment of contact was pure magic.  As Philip’s bare forearms touched the soft, sensuous flanks of this quiet, little creature something registered in Philip’s consciousness in ways that couldn’t be articulated but, nonetheless, something as real as, perhaps, a rainbow across the hills.

This first contact was a strong experience for both man and dog.  For even at the tender age of twelve weeks or so, the tiny dog appeared to sense that the human person holding him so longingly was deep in thought; far away in some remote place, almost trying to bridge a divide of many years.

Philip sat very carefully down on the wooden-slatted bench behind him so he could rest the beautiful animal in his lap.  The puppy was adorable.  Large, over-sized ears flopped across the top of a golden-brown furry head.  That golden-brown fur with countless black hairs intermingled within the tan flowed across the shoulders morphing into the predominantly cream colour of the pup’s soft, gangling front legs.  That creamy fur continuing along the little creature’s underbelly. The puppy Shepherd dog almost purred with contentment, his deep brown eyes gazing so intently into Philip’s deep blue eyes.  Puppy eyes starting to soften, maybe just a hint of eye-lids starting to close.

Philip had never before felt so close to an animal.  In a life time of more than fifty-nine years including cats at home when he was a young boy growing up in North-West London, and a pet cat when his own son and daughter were youngsters, Philip had never, ever sensed the stirrings of such a loving bond as he was sensing now.  As the young puppy seemed to be sensing in return.  This was going to be Philip’s dog, without a doubt.

“So, Sandra, tell me again what I need to know about raising a German Shepherd?”

Sandra Chambers, her grey hair turned up in a bun behind her head, brushed the dog hairs and the biscuit crumbs off her navy-blue overalls and sat down alongside Philip on the bench.  Sandra had seen hundreds of prospective owners over the more than forty years that she had been breeding German Shepherds up here on Devon’s Southern Dartmoor flanks.  But Philip was not typical of those hundreds of others.  First, he came on his own despite admitting that he was married.  Uncommon for a married couple not to chose a dog together. Then Philip, a good-looking, well-dressed, thoughtful man, that Sandra had guessed was in his late 50’s, had mentioned never previously owning a dog yet there was no question in his mind that this, his first dog, had to be a German Shepherd.  Sandra had counselled Philip that Shepherd dogs were wonderful, loyal companions but at the same time were incredibly strong animals; both physically and wilfully.  The commitment to properly and fully training a Shepherd dog was not to be underestimated.  A powerful, male Shepherd dog had the potential to kill a cat or a smaller dog in an instant, even to attack a stranger.  Training a dog such as this German Shepherd was without question.  Even more so in the case of the pup that Philip so fondly held as both the pup’s parents were from the very finest German bloodlines.

But despite Philip being such an unusual first owner, Sandra couldn’t miss the remarkable way that both Philip and the puppy had connected.

Sandra explained, “Well we’ve discussed his feeding needs, so that’s a big step.  At first just care and love him so he quickly registers that your home is his home.  Shepherds are very bright, very instinctive animals.  Just look at the way that he is watching your face just now!”

“Once you have him home, Philip, start into a routine in terms of potty training.  Let him out into your garden in his puppy harness so that he can sniff around.  As soon as he takes a pee or a dump reward him with kind words, a rub between his ears, even a small biscuit.  He will very quickly learn to potty outside.”

“You know I’m only a phone call away if you have any queries.”

Thus it was on a warm, sunny day in the first week of September, 2003 Philip drove the twenty miles from Sandra’s kennels in Bovey Tracey to his Harberton home just a few miles West of Totnes.  The little pup quiet as a mouse curled up on a blanket inside the puppy carrier placed on the passenger front seat; the passenger seat-belt around the front of the carrier; just in case!

Philip and his wife, Maggie, had anticipated that them getting a dog was more or less inevitable and the garden fencing around their village home had been double-checked.  Philip closed the wooden, five-bar gate behind him and drove the short distance up their gravel drive and parked the car.  He opened the passenger door and lifted the puppy carrier out and set it down on the warm grass.

A soft, wet nose lead the rest of a puppy’s body out of the carrier, cautiously sniffing and smelling the blades of grass. He padded across to a small tree, squatted and pee’d his first pee in his new home.

The front door opened and Maggie came down the front steps, slipping a beige jacket over her shoulders, brushing her long, blond hair back across the jacket as she did so and walked up to them.  “So you got him, then!”

She crouched down to be at the puppy’s level.  The dog, his eyes glistening with curiosity, came over to Maggie and sniffed her outstretched fingers.

“Oh, he is rather cute. Did you have difficulty choosing him?”

“No, not at all.  Sandra only had three puppies that were available just now and this little lad seemed to bond with me, and me with him, in a way that just wasn’t echoed with the other two puppies.”

“Plus, you know I always wanted a male Shepherd and the other pups were both females.”

Maggie stroked the young dog along his furry back. “What are we going to call him?”

Philip responded without hesitation. “Pharaoh.”

1140 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The power of sharing.

“Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.”

My post last Monday, The lure of patterns, appears to have resonated far and wide.  In the sense of many echoes reinforcing the perilous nature of our present times and the desperately uncertain decades ahead.  Tomorrow I shall be writing specifically about those echoes.

Today, I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on dogs and communities!  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs!

In Monday’s post I opined that the future may well see a return to people re-evaluating and re-energising the benefits of local communities.  Now when it comes to communities, there are no better examples than dogs and, so many thousands of years before dogs, grey wolves.  These species have an incredibly strong social structure.  I mean, of course, the pack.  It’s a shame that the expression ‘pack of wolves’ or ‘pack of dogs’ has such misplaced negative connotations.

Before dogs were domesticated, as in when they first evolved from the grey wolf, they shared with wolves a natural pack size of around 50 animals.  There was a very strong social cohesiveness within that pack yet a very ‘light’ status differential between those dogs having pack status and the mass of the pack group.  Ditto with wolves.

In fact there were (still are) just three status roles: Mentor/Monitor/Nanny.  Or has been described previously on this blog: Alpha/Beta/Omega roles.  Even within the domesticated dog, thousands upon thousands of years later, those social instincts are alive and well.  Many followers of Learning from Dogs will know that Pharaoh, him of the Home Page, now an elderly German Shepherd is a Monitor or Beta dog.  I could write about this aspect of dogs for hours!

Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.
Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.

So back to us funny old humans.

I closed last Monday’s post off with three predictions:

  • That the power of internet communications will allow more people, more quickly, to find their soul-mates wherever they are on this planet.
  • That the realisation of how dysfunctional many Governments are, of how truly poorly they serve the majorities of their citizens, will lead to mass rejections of these so-called Governments’ policies.  Such rejections predominantly peaceful, as in taking the horse to water but being unable to make it drink.
  • That there will be a new form of localism.  At two levels.  Literally, people geographically close to each other creating 21st C. versions of local communities.  Virtually, those local communities linking to other like-minded communities right across the world resulting in highly effective and innovative learning, accelerated common-sense, (call it wisdom if you wish), and extraordinarily efficient and sustainable ways of living on this planet.

Patrice commented:

Dear Paul: I like your predictions. They will play some role. But maybe somewhere in the bushes only. I think predictions of the future beyond the next 12 months are obsolete.

Jeremy remarked: (and do click the link and read some of Jeremy’s fantastic poetry)

I am hoping for a new localism. I see signs of this in the local food movement and a growing concern about factory farming, for one thing. I think people are really scrutinizing where their food comes from, where their medicines are made, and I think there also is a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). I do see signs of these things permeating the consciousness of many people and leading them to want to become more “local.”

Alex said:

Your predictions are good, and I liked the one of communities from different parts of the world working with each other… that was creatively brilliant.

(Click on their names to see three wonderful blog sites, by the way.)

So my idea of a return to an era of localism, but a 21st C. version reflecting the way so many millions of us are connected electronically, wasn’t immediately rejected.

Patrice recently published a post called Devils In The Details.  I mentioned in a comment to that post that I would be referring to it in this place.  Patrice replied [my italics]:

Very good, Paul! No doubt you will bring more common sense to one more of these interesting collaborations you bring together! Internet debates! A long way from the paleolithique cave!… But still the same idea. Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.

I found that last sentence so powerful that it was used as the sub-heading to today’s post.  Then Alexi Helligar commented:

The word consciousness, breaks down to con+scious+ness, which literally means together knowing or shared knowledge.

Adding in a subsequent comment:

In other words: Without society there is no consciousness. The sages of old knew this. Why has it been forgotten?

So right before my eyes (and yours!) we are seeing the power of ‘finding together‘.

Finally, just on the spur of the moment, I did a web search under an entry of ‘early caveman social structure’.  Guess what!  One of the top search returns was an essay by an Erik D. Kennedy under the title of On the Social Lives of Cavemen.  From which jumped off the screen:

Human beings are no strangers to group living.  Call it a family trait.  Our closest animal relatives spend a good bulk of their time eating bugs off of their friends’ back.  While I’m overjoyed we’re not social in that manner, I’m less pleased that we’re not social more to that degree.  In study after study, having and spending time with close friends is consistently correlated with happiness and well-being.  And yet, the last few decades in America have seen a remarkable decline in many things associated with being in a tight-knit social circle—things like family and household size, club participation, and number of close friends.  Conversely, we’ve seen an increase in things associated with being alone—TV, commutes, and the internet, for example.

This trend is quite unhealthy.  It’s no surprise that humans are social animals—but it may be surprising that we’re such social animals that merely joining a club halves your chance of death in the next year—or that living in a close-knit town of three-generation homes can almost singlehandedly keep you safe from heart disease.

My goodness me, this sharing idea may be core to a healthy society in ways that we need to return to.  Erik’s essay goes on thus:

That particular case—of Roseto, Pennsylvania—is mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.  In 1950’s Roseto, the incidence of heart disease in men over sixty-five was half the national average (and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious crime were also basically unheard of[ii]).  Bewildered doctors searched for solutions in genetics, diet, exercise, and geography, but finding nothing, reached the conclusion that it was the close-knit social life of the community that kept its residents so healthy. Dinners with grandma, friendly chats between neighbors, and a precocious level of civic involvement were the driving factors in the health of a town that nothing but old age could kill.

The happiness and health I’m describing are not, however, ingredients to a long-lost elixir of well-being.  This sort of paleo social life occurs in cultures large and small all over the globe.  America just happens to be an enormous exception (and the one that I live in).  The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.  This was basically an Italian village in the American countryside, and it stood out because Italy’s social culture was remarkable compared to America’s—and that was in the 1950’s.  America’s social culture has only deteriorated even further since then.  We’ve lost a lot, but my thesis is a positive one; we have as much to gain as ever.

So if wolves and dogs naturally settle into packs of 50 animals, what’s the optimum ‘pack’ size for humans?  Dear Erik even offers that answer:

Along with that urban emigration came a shrink in residents per household and a widespread decline in community and organization engagement.  This isolation has been taxing on our physical and mental health, and the reason has been clear from the beginning: it’s not good for man to be alone.

So we’ll spend more time with other people.  Fine.  But who should we spend our time with?  What kind of groups should we hang out in?  And how big of groups?  The simple answer is: as long as you’re pretty close to the people you’re with, it hardly matters. Piles of research back up what is essentially obvious from everyday experience: that the more time you spend with people you trust, the better off you are.  That’s not to discourage actively meeting new people, but seeing as though close friends push us towards health and happiness better than strangers, there does appear to be a limit on the number of people you can have in your “tribe”.

And that number is about 150, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who achieved anthropologist fame by drawing a graph plotting primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes.  He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and lo and behold, the number 150 has been making a whirlwind tour of popular non-fiction books ever since.  Beyond being the upper bound for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Paleolithic farming villages,  it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for number of close social ties.

You really must read Erik’s essay in full; it really ‘spoke’ to me and maybe it will do the same for you.

So no other way to close than to say that of all the things we can learn from dogs, the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

Dogs and man should never be alone.
Dogs and man should never be alone.


I'll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!
I’ll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!