Nose for News
Fewer Dogs Are Being Euthanized
American animal shelters take in and save more dogs than previously believed, according to a new study by researchers at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, The Washington Post recently reported.
The study found that the number of dogs euthanized in American animal shelters has dropped to fewer than 780,000 per year, and that shelters take in more than 5.5 million dogs each year. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said 1.2 million dogs die in U.S. shelters each year and 3.9 million enter them.
The Mississippi State study also suggests that euthanasia estimates by the Humane Society of the United States and the No Kill Advocacy Center, both of which estimate that about 2.5 million animals are killed in shelters each year, may be based in large part on animals other than dogs.
The research was funded by the Pet Leadership Council, which represents organizations including the American Kennel Club and the American Pet Products Association; PetSmart and other large retail stores; and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the legislative and lobbying voice of the pet industry.
The Older the Better
A new survey by The Grey Muzzle Organization suggests that more people are opening their homes to older dogs, The Dodo recently reported. The survey gathered information from 30 rescue groups that found homes for 18,000 dogs last year, including 3,900 seniors.
“Based on their hands-on experience, two-thirds of our survey respondents reported that the situation for homeless senior dogs has improved over the past year or two,” Lisa Lunghofer, executive director of the Grey Muzzle Organization, explained in a press release. “No dog is more grateful or loving than a senior. As more people discover their wonderful qualities, more old dogs are getting the second chance they deserve.”
In all, 80 percent of the groups surveyed reported positive changes in public perception of senior dogs. The biggest reason why adopters choose older dogs? They want to do the right thing. Seniors are usually a lot calmer than puppies. And, of course, they’re usually already housetrained.
“We are starting to see more and more young people come in to adopt seniors. It seems as if adopting seniors is starting to be a trend. People see it in a new light,” Nicole Ristau of Bob’s House for Dogs noted in the survey.
Just for Oldsters
In Mt. Juliet, Tenn., there is a special shelter for older dogs having a hard time finding their forever home, station WKRN reported recently.
Called The Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, it is dedicated to caring for older dogs, the majority of which are 10 years old or older.
“It is very comforting to know these dogs will be safe for the rest of their lives, and it is wonderful to know that we can help in an area that there was no help before,” said owner Zina Goodsin.
The sanctuary allows people to adopt the dogs in a system called Forever Foster Homes, and the shelter aborbs some expenses for the duration of the dog’s life.
America’s 70 million dogs, like their human companions, are living longer, on average, because of better medical care and nutrition, Dr. Preeti N. Malani recently reported on NPR. But caring for such elderly dogs can be heartbreaking as guardians come to terms with when to be medically aggressive and when to euthanize.
“Older patients are the biggest challenge veterinarians face,” said Dr. Alicia Karas, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University who urges taking a holistic approach to older dogs and looks beyond drugs to treat pain, a common ailment. She sometimes recommends massage, therapeutic ultrasound, and rehabilitation, believing the benefits of a good rehabilitation program can be far-reaching.
While specialized care may seem ideal, Dr. Stephen Steep, a veterinarian in Oxford, Mich., tries to present a menu of options and to set realistic expectations of what can and can’t be done. But the pet’s comfort is paramount, and Steep said he always considers whether a particular decision will improve the animal’s quality of life.
Although Steep believes most owners understand there is a limit to their pet’s life, he feels people don’t always realize how old their pets really are. He tries to help them accept aging as a normal process, not a disease. When Steep gets the sense that someone is pushing too hard, he tries to emphasize the pet’s comfort. Most owners come to the realization that their dog is at the end of its life.
Purebred Vs. Mutts
While some purebred dogs exhibit genetically based physical problems, it’s unclear whether mixed-breeds are healthier overall, according to Stanley Coren in an recent article in Psychology Today. So far, it seems that mixed-breed dogs can inherit the problems associated with the breeds in their makeup, meaning mixed-breed dogs are no more or less likely to have health issues than purebreds.
What about personality and behavioral differences? A new study by Hungarian researchers published in the journal PLOS One found there were personality differences between them. Mixed-breed dogs were less calm and less sociable toward other dogs than purebreds, and the mixed-breed dogs were more likely to show behavior problems. There were little or no differences in trainability, and they were similar in boldness. Researchers noted that mixed-breed dogs often come from random breeding while purebreds are selectively bred.
Researchers think environmental factors related to the demographics of the dog owners and how the dogs were reared and trained also play a role in any differences.
Survival of the Friendliest
When it comes to social intelligence, toddlers have more in common with dogs than chimpanzees, according to a new study at the University of Arizona, with dogs and children outperforming chimps on cooperative communication tasks, according to the journal Animal Behaviour.
The researchers assessed social cognition through game-based tests by hiding treats and toys and communicating the hiding places through nonverbal cues such as pointing or looking in a certain direction. Both dogs and toddlers outperformed chimps in this area of cooperative communication.
One possible explanation for the similarities between dogs and humans is that both may have evolved under similar pressures that favored “survival of the friendliest,” with benefits and rewards for more cooperative social behavior.
The research may help researchers better understand human disabilities that may involve deficits in social skills, such as autism.
State Rep. Sarah Davis of West University Place, Texas, filed a bill recently that would prohibit a person from tethering a dog outside with a chain or with a restraint that has weights or is shorter than five times the length of the dog. Under the measure, a dog could be restrained to a stationary object only if the dog has access to adequate shelter, shade, and water and if the area is dry.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Davis said the current law is confusing and allows abusive owners to receive multiple warnings before being penalized. Her bill would not interfere with cities or counties that have more restrictive laws.