Evolution of Dogs and Wolves

Do you think Noah had two of every single dog breed on the ark? Or do you believe that dogs evolved from wolves?

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The latest research from PLOS Genetics suggests that today’s dogs and gray wolves share a common ancestor in an extinct wolf lineage that lived thousands of years ago. The researchers found no clear genetic link between the modern dogs and wolves studied, so dogs and wolves likely diverged from the same Stone Age wolves between 11,000 to 16,000 years ago.

We still don’t know how dogs were domesticated. We don’t even know when precisely, but one estimate is between 18,800 to 32,100 years ago. Could someone please write some historical fiction about this? I would love to read a Paleolithic-era novel about a European hunter-gatherer in the Stone Age and the very first pet dog.

To me, dog breeding is strong evidence that evolution happens. I compare a pug to a Great Pyrenees and wonder, How are these even the same species?

I also wonder, What would happen if we stopped breeding dogs?

The dog welfare community seems universally opposed to puppy mills and pet store dogs. These days, the politically correct, animal friendly way to acquire a dog is to rescue one from an animal shelter.

But “dog breeder” is not synonymous with “puppy mill.” Each dog breed was created for a reason, and responsible breeders exist. Isis and Leo both came from breeders committed to preserving the qualities that make German shepherds so loyal, intelligent, hard-working, and really, really, ridiculously good-looking.

Abandoning dog breeding means saying goodbye to the distinctions between Labradors and Belgian Malinois and border collies …

The dogs studied in the aforementioned PLOS Genetics research were basenjis from central Africa and dingos from Australia. These smallish, pointy-eared breeds bear some resemblance to the dogs I’ve seen in the streets of Thailand and India. Most street dogs, I’m fairly certain, are not bred by people.

I wonder, if people stopped breeding dogs to have longer coats, and flatter faces, and floppy ears, would all dogs evolve to look like this one?

E is for Evolution.
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I want to save them all

Note: I would love it if the following story ended with me bringing Misty home, but, spoiler, that hasn’t happened. My hands go up to everyone who’s ever rescued a dog, and for those who rescue animals every day.

My heart won’t stop bleeding for all the homeless dogs. Perhaps I need to block all the dog rescues I follow on Facebook and Twitter.

After last week’s puppy visit, I felt at peace with our status as a two-dog family… until I saw a listing last night on Old Dog Haven for a 10-year-old German shepherd, described as “very broken down.” The Facebook post had no photo and I couldn’t find one on Petfinder or the shelter’s website. I thought of asking for a photo, but then thought, Does it matter what she looks like?

I said to Rob, “There’s this dog at the shelter in Everett. Says she’s been there a while and led a very rough life before that…”

As the words came out of my mouth, I felt ridiculous. A senior dog? A female? Not part of our plan. Our next dog is supposed to be a pit bull, remember?

Still … the shelter is only a half hour from my office, and I knew I’d have some down time today.

This morning, a new Facebook post included Misty’s photo.

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My heart ached as I drove to the shelter, trying to convince myself that I’m not crazy. I’m not committing to anything. I just want to see the dog. Get a new picture of her. See if she’s in any better shape since this photo was taken. The description said she likes being outside during the day. She could be much easier than a puppy to care for. She could lie beside Mia in the backyard … assuming Mia tolerates having another female in the house.

If we fed her a diet of raw meat and grain-free kibble, I bet her coat and skin would clear right up.

It took longer than a half hour to get to the shelter. There were road closures. When I walked in, I asked the lady if she had a shepherd named Misty.

“For adoption? No.”

“You don’t have a dog named Misty?”

“Not for adoption.”

“I saw her on Old Dog Haven.”

“For fostering? You need to go through Old Dog Haven.”

“I can’t even see her?”

“You need to go through Old Dog Haven.”

I called Old Dog Haven from the car and got voice mail. I could do nothing but drive away feeling heartsick, wondering if I should have pressed the issue. Poor Misty, not only is she in jail, but she’s not even allowed visitors? But shelters have rules for a reason. Maybe I’d jumped the gun.

Later I saw on Facebook that several other people had called or stopped by and been told the same thing, but the shelter is all straightened out now, and Misty is available for adoption. I was angry that I was denied the opportunity to see her, but encouraged because so many other people expressed interest in her. A few people have put in applications already.

That’s the beauty of social media: in just a few hours, Misty’s story touched tons of people. My heart’s still bleeding, though, thinking about all the dogs in shelters who don’t have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds broadcasting their stories to the masses.

Take, for example, all the dogs at the shelter that I didn’t even bother to look at today, because I was so focused on Misty.

UPDATE: Misty was adopted on Sept. 10. Later that night, she showed signs of bloat, possibly from an enlarged spleen or tumor that caused her stomach to twist. She was euthanized in her new owner’s arms. Very sad, but as Old Dog Haven and her new owner point out, it’s also a success story. The purpose of Old Dog Haven and similar rescues is to prevent senior dogs from dying alone in shelters.

Saturday Pet Blog Hop

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Welcome to my first Saturday Pet Blogger Hop!

A few things happening in my dog world that I’d like to share. I had been thinking for a while about getting a third dog, but I think I’ve come to terms with the idea that now’s not the best time. Maybe we should be a two dog at a time family. We visited a litter of rescued pit bull puppies last week, and somehow I was able to resist falling in love. If a boy puppy had taken as much of an interest in us as all the girl puppies, it might have been a different story. Plus, I was disillusioned by the people who ran the rescue.

If we were going to get another dog (and we're not getting another dog), we'd get a boy. But Rob had a hard time keeping the girl puppies away.

If we were going to get another dog (and we’re not getting another dog), we’d get a boy. But Rob had a hard time keeping the girl puppies away.

Read about it here: These things (pinch collars)? Never useful.

A dog bowl I painted was featured in Mayzie’s Dog Blog’s recap of BarkWorld, which may not seem like a big deal to you, but we’re eagerly awaiting the day our glazed bowls arrive in the mail from Nutrish. Rob made a magnificent bowl for Leo, and mine is the one pictured with the paw prints and “Squeak! Whistle!” (because that’s what Mia says all the time).

More on what I learned at BarkWorld here: Separation Anxiety (mine) and the canine oxytocin connection.

Also, I started a Facebook page for my memoir, Bark and Lunge.

And reminisced about some early Adventures in Pet-Sitting.

Have a look around, please leave comments, and follow me if you like what you see.

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Adventures in Pet-sitting

One of the many perks of BarkWorld was a magnificent swag bag, which included $25 gift cards for pet-sitting via Rover.com.

Rover.com is Hotels.com for your dog, connecting you with pet caregivers in cities all over the United States.

I’m giving away two gift cards. That’s $50 of pet-sitting!

Enter to win both by:

  • Posting a comment right here on Rhymes with Safari

and

Adventures in Pet-sitting

Before I had dogs, I was the single mother of an iguana named Emerald. He moved with me from Los Angeles to Chicago, to Alexandria, Va., back to L.A., to Burlington, Wash., then Olympia and Bellingham.

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In Chicago and Washington, I had friends to stop by and feed him when I was out of town, but I moved to Alexandria just before Christmas and knew no one who would be around while I was back in L.A. for the holiday. The year was 2000 and I found my pet-sitter in the phone book (the Internet had already been invented but I don’t think it had replaced phone books yet). After meeting her briefly, I wasn’t remotely concerned that this stranger would steal of my stuff; I had just moved there and didn’t have any valuables (aside from Emerald). Worst case scenario, she wouldn’t feed him and I’d come home to a very hungry lizard. She definitely came by at least once, because she left behind a pair of leather gloves.

Nowadays, of course, you’d find an iguana-sitter online, and that’s what Rover.com is all about. You can find dog walkers, doggie daycare, sitters to stay at your house, and people who will take your pets into their homes, all for a range of prices. Older couples, college students, teenagers. Take your pick. Even though I don’t have an iguana anymore, I was delighted to find a listing near me for a sitter who cares for exotics as well as cats and dogs.

Like anything online, you want to make sure you’re dealing with trustworthy people, so you’d want to meet your sitter face-to-face before giving them a key and your itinerary in Barbados. Rover’s reviews also are helpful in that regard.

Usually, Rob’s parents stay at our house with our dogs while we’re gone (so when I tell the Internet we’re going to be out of town, be advised that breaking in during that time will not go well for you). But a few years ago, they treated us to a trip to Hawaii. When they first invited us, my ungrateful reaction was, “Wow, sounds great. Who’s going to watch the dogs?”

We boarded Leo at a place with a big fenced yard, because he’s such a handful, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that to Mia. We’d only had her a few months; how could I explain to her that she wasn’t being abandoned again? So we had a pet-sitter stay with her, and that worked out perfectly.

Rover CEO Aaron Easterly spoke at BarkWorld about the changing trends in pet care and technology. The biggest takeaway for me was that a recent poll found 76 percent of people with dogs considered themselves to be dog parents, rather than dog owners. Makes perfect sense, then, that people prefer for their babies to stay in homes, rather than cages.

To win $25 toward pet-sitting through Rover.com, comment below and tell me about your Adventures in Pet-Sitting. Then, “like” the Facebook page for Bark and Lunge, and enter there to win a second $25 gift card. Contest ends at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11. One winner randomly selected from each list of comments will be announced Thursday, Sept. 12.

Separation anxiety (mine) and the canine oxytocin connection

While in Atlanta for BarkWorld, I missed my doggies like crazy. More than usual, probably because I was thinking about dogs and surrounded by dog-lovers all weekend.

The highlight of the social “petworking” conference for me was meeting Victoria Stilwell. As a fan of her television show, I already knew that she is a champion of positive reinforcement training, but I did not realize the depth of her passion for educating dog owners and old-school trainers that force-free methods are the only humane way to work with animals. Her talk at BarkWorld was inspirational.

On the flight home, I began reading her book, Train Your Dog Positively, appreciating its well-written, scientifically backed explanation of dog psychology mixed with anecdotes about her own dogs and client dogs.

On page 51, I had to nudge Rob to take off his earphones and listen to this:

When we pet a dog lovingly, for example, the warmth and happiness we feel comes from a release into the bloodstream of oxytocin — a “bonding” hormone that has a powerful effect on dogs and humans. Dr. Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a doctor and professor of physiology and a pioneer in the study of oxytocin, studied this hormone release by taking blood samples from dogs and their owners before and during a petting session. When owners stroked their dogs, they had a release of oxytocin similar to what mothers experience while nursing babies.

Interestingly, petting also triggered a burst of oxytocin in the dogs themselves. Miho Nagasawah, of the Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology at Azabu University in Japan, showed that even eye contact between a dog and human causes an increase in oxytocin. This interaction between our two species has a powerful physiological effect on both of us, promoting feelings of love and attachment while lowering blood pressure and heart rate, soothing pain, and lessening stress.

Oh my god, yes. Forget eye contact, I feel releases of oxytocin just by saying my dogs’ names.

Here’s a scenario that played out in about a dozen variations throughout the weekend: Rob would mention one of the dogs, let’s say Mia. I would moan, “Meeeeeeyaa. I miss her so muuuuch.” Then I might chant her name, “Mia, Mia, Mia,” or sing the song Rob made up about her resemblance to a bear, then autotuned and used as the soundtrack to this montage of photos:

 

The Leo version often included some form of his nickname: Leo Bug or DJ Leo Bug, which I then abbreviated to DJ LB, realizing that LB also stands for Little Boy. Little Boy Leo Bug.

I know. I’m completely insane.

But saying their names, thinking about them, looking at their pictures in my Facebook albums — all of these fill me with a warmth and happiness reminiscent of petting them and kissing their soft heads.

Naturally since we’ve been home, I’ve been on an oxytocin bender. Every time I leave the house, I look forward to my next opportunity to revel in our scientifically proven bonding ritual.

Our dog sitters (Grandma and Grandpa) reported that Mia seemed anxious while we were gone, but Leo was his normal self. Maybe he wasn’t distraught by our absence, but I can tell by the smile on his face that he’s sure happy we’re back.

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

Weekly Writing Challenge: Image vs. Text

I drafted this post before I saw this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Image vs. Text, and was struggling to pick an image to accompany it. Should I borrow Evernote’s logo, since I’m giving them free advertising anyway? Maybe Rob has a picture of me using my Nook. I was tempted to steal photos of Louis CK, Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer, or at least embed the videos I link to below.

Given the challenge at hand, I have taken a post I didn’t know how to illustrate with one picture, and illustrated it with four images.

The Next Generation of Typos

I no longer know how to write things by hand, so I’ve begun making notes to myself on my Nook and my iPod touch. Evernote seems to be designed for such things, because it syncs to become available on multiple devices.

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I turned off the autocorrect feature on my digital devices long ago, because I trust my own ability to spell over the computer’s assumption that when I type pissy,what I really mean is pussy. True story: my stepmother emailed my significant other that her Blackberry tried to autocorrect her message to him thusly.

In a pinch, I’ve used Evernote to jot down what could be described as a journal entry. Let me explain. In a world before blogs, people wrote things down for themselves as private documentation. Today I felt sad, or My best friend really pissed me off. Things you don’t want other people to read, but make you feel better to express.

I expect that these personal musings will be useful for future memoir or fiction projects, but because those pesky little touch screens are so small, my literal notes to self are riddled with typos. I’m terribly afraid that after my death, some historian will come across them and won’t understand that my spelling errors are a result of the technology of the time.

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I do all my writing by keyboard, but I still edit with a pen.

I suppose everyone else in the world has an iPad or whatever, and has been word processing remotely for years, but Evernote has been something of a revelation to me. The members of my writing group provide one another with typed critiques. On a few recent occasions, I’ve wanted to work on my critiques in places that weren’t convenient to take my laptop. On an airplane to and from a weekend getaway, as one example. In the car at the Canadian border crossing, for another.

Disney

Celebrating Rob’s birthday. Didn’t feel like taking the laptop with me.

On the way back from Disneyland in January, I wrote three critiques on my Nook, then uploaded and corrected my spelling errors on my laptop before printing. On Sunday, I planned to do the same, but when I got in the car, I realized that my Nook’s battery wasn’t charged. I handwrote (as legibly as I could) two critiques before I remembered that I had Evernote on my iPod. I wrote the third critique on the tiny handheld touchpad keyboard.

Sometimes technology really a-freaking-mazes me. And I don’t even have a smartphone that uploads photos to Instagram.

Louis CK really nailed it with this commentary. (“Give it a second to get back from space!”)

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Pretty sure the coolest thing about my Nook is the sticker I put on the M-Edge case.

I will say (lowering voice like Kim Jong Un’s best friends from growing up), the Nook Tablet is not a great tablet. It’s a fine e-reader and the price was right. But it’s seriously deficient in apps (none for Facebook, for example, which would have been a dealbreaker if I’d known ahead of time) and the web browser is pretty shabby. My next electronic device will be a true tablet (unless my iPod dies and needs replacing first). Probably the iPad mini.

UPDATE 3.24.13: I spent $19.99 to turn my Nook SD card into a Nook 2 Android card. This may have resolved all of my tablet complaints, namely the lack of a Facebook app. Now I just have to adjust to the Android interface, which on first use does not seem as pretty as the Nook’s. Fortunately, I can easily switch between the Nook and the Android just by rebooting the device.

Building a blog tribe

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I never used to care how many readers I had.

When I first started blogging in 2002, I was afraid to attach my name to it, afraid to put myself all the way out there. I wanted to write publicly, but didn’t necessarily want people knowing who I was. I was living in Prague and wanted family and friends to know what I was up to. Family members followed my blog, but very few friends did.

I don’t envy those of you who blog as a profession. I can’t imagine being dependent on hits for my income. To me that’s really scary. I want to blog what I want to blog and not worry about my following.

For most of its life, Rhymes with Safari had about six readers, and that was just fine with me.

As I get ready to start querying agents for my memoir, Bark and Lunge, I’m constantly hearing that I need to build a platform. I need to show prospective agents and editors that I can attract a following. They want to know that more than six people will buy my book.

To that end, I’ve joined some social networking groups aimed at expanding one’s blogging reach, and I’ve more than doubled my Twitter following… to a whopping 96 tweeps.

I’ve made a few changes around here. I bought the domain KariNeumeyer.com a few months back, and you’ll notice that’s now the default URL. Right now, both KariNeumeyer and RhymeswithSafari will get you here, but I may not renew RhymeswithSafari.com a year from now.

I’ve also been advised to establish myself as a dog blogger, and not blog about unrelated topics. That way, publishers will recognize that I am the right person to write a memoir about loving an aggressive dog.

Interestingly and probably unfortunately, my dog posts don’t attract the most readers. My travel posts last year seemed wildly popular among total strangers.

In Brooke Warner’s book What’s Your Book? she talks about losing interest in a travel writer whose blog wasn’t entirely about travel. I feel for that blogger. I wouldn’t be able to sustain a travel-only blog year-round, not the way I blogged during my last trip.

I probably could write about nothing but dogs, but I fear that would get boring. Post after post about Leo chewing a piece of furniture, or Mia stealing his toys. I mean I could look at pictures of my dogs forever. Could you?

Besides, there are lots of dog blogs out there. There’s only one KariNeumeyer, and she also likes to talk about movies, and describe her experiences at the walk-in clinic and emergency room.

I am allowed to write about writing and the process of getting published though, so at least this post is acceptable.