Monday, April 2, 2012

Thank You

To everyone who not only helped find Indiana, our Fuzzybutt number Four, but subsequently helped find homes for so many other fuzzybutts in need.  We accomplished a lot on this blog but I have to focus now on the mission now.

I'll be phasing this blog out over the coming weeks. Thank you for your contributions, passion, and commitment to animal welfare.  Keep the faith & puppy up!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Adopting Sonic

Don't miss the Raising Indiana interview with P.E.T.S. LLC owner, Kyle Peterson, at

P.E.T.S. LLC was an important aspect of Sonic finding his way to his forever family with Emily. Thanks Kyle & P.E.T.S. LLC!


Emily Booth

For the past
two years all I have heard about from my fiancé is how the first thing that we
were going to do as a couple once we had our own home was to adopt a dog. We have both always had a pet in our homes
growing up and really wanted our very own. Before we even signed the papers on our first home we were searching
petfinder and other similar sites for our perfect dog. After researching endless options – anyone
who knows me will tell you that I over-research everything – we decided we
really wanted to rescue a dog. We had
already decided that a young, untrained puppy was not something we would have
the time for at the time and decided to start searching for a year or two old dog
that needed rescuing. I can’t even begin
to count the number of rescues I contacted in Connecticut alone. We saw so many dogs online that they were
honestly all starting to blend together. Initially we had decided that we would only adopt a dog that was located
in CT as we felt strongly about ensuring that we had a connection with the dog
we chose… I knew I would feel terrible if we had a dog transported here and it
simply wasn’t a good match. Then Jim saw
Sonic online. Something about his
picture jumped out at us, and for the first time we actually got excited about
a specific dog. I saw a friend that
evening and couldn’t stop talking about this goofy looking dog that we found
online. I contacted the rescue that
sponsored the listing and was eventually led to speak with the foster family…inTennessee. I was hesitant but something told me I had to
find out more about this awesome looking dog. I spoke with Sheila (Sonic’s foster) extensively and the more she
described Sonic the more I knew this was the dog for us. I could tell that Sheila truly loved Sonic
because of the passion she had when telling me all about him. I felt confident that she was being honest
with me about not only Sonic’s high points but also kept me informed on the
areas he still needed training on. I
told her about our lifestyle and what we were looking for and in the end we
both decided that Sonic belonged with my family. So in the end, despite the fact that we went
into the process not looking to transport a dog from out of state, that is what
we ended up doing. We now have the most
amazing dog that we could have ever asked for. Sonic is happy, energetic, lovable, and is loving experiencing his new
environment. We are so thrilled that we
made the decision to rescue a dog. We
ended up working with rescue organizations, a foster family, and a transport
service that really cares about making sure that dogs receive the family that
is the perfect match for them. Transporting Sonic was extremely easy and
relatively stress free for all involved. Being able to view the transport service online eased any of our
concerns. When Sonic arrived in Connecticut I could tell
that although he was a bit anxious, he was healthy and well cared for. I still remember hearing his adorable howl
when they opened the transport door! The
transport team ensured that each dog was united with their forever family and
any questions were immediately answered. When we begin looking for a second dog for our family I will absolutely
be looking out of state for our next amazing rescue dog!

Emily Booth
is Sonic’s loving forever mom and makes her home with her fiancé in Connecticut.

As Sonic’s
foster mom I cannot thank Emily and her fiancé enough for opening their life
and home to a dog from another state, especially the South. When rescuers, fosters, potential adopters
and reliable transport services work together thousands of otherwise unwanted
animals gain a new chance at love and life!

A huge thank
you goes out to Kyle & Pam Peterson from P.E.T.S. LLC for saving over
34,000 animals since 2004, and helping to connect Sonic with his forever

For more
information visit

Monday, January 23, 2012

Upcoming Raising Indiana Guests

Raising Indiana airs every Thursday at 8pm EST on!

So who’s going to be Indy’s guest in 2012?

January 26th--Part 3 of our fantastic interview with Patricia McConnell, PhD
Dr. McConnell is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), highly-sought after dog trainer, speaker and the author of much-acclaimed books including The Other End of the Leash.

February 2nd--Ian Dunbar, PhD
Dr. Dunbar is a veterinarian, animal behaviorist and dog trainer.  Dr. Dunbar is the author of numerous books and DVD series including AFTER You Get Your Puppy.  In 1982, Dr. Dunbar designed and taught the world’s first off-lead puppy socialization & training class.  We’re speaking to Dr. Dunbar as SIRIUS Puppy Training celebrates its 30th birthday!

February 9th--Kyle Peterson with P.E.T.S. LLC Transport
 Kyle and Pam Peterson’s animal transport company has saved the lives of 34,326 pets since their
 beginning in 2003!  We chat with the star of Animal Planet’s Last Chance Highway about animal 
 rescue, long-haul drives and his love of puppies.

We have a cool blog addition to this podcast that follows the life on a rescued dog in Tennessee, Sonic, through his foster home (with me and my family), his journey with P.E.T.S. LLC to Connecticut and his life with his new forever family!

Valentine’s Day Special—February 16th--Sheryl Matthys of
Should we set Luke up with an online dating profile?  Our Valentine’s Day Special Podcast is all about
the love and connection pet owners share.  Sheryl Matthys is the founder of leashes and lovers online match-making service and author of the book by the same name.  You don’t want to miss this Raising Indiana podcast!

February 23rd--Jackie Obando, DVM
Dr. Obando was born in Brazil where she studied veterinary medicine, afterward traveling to Europe to further study homeopathy.  We chat with Dr. Obando about homeopathic therapies and raw food

March 1st--Jill Gainer with Nature’s Variety
Nature’s Variety is a natural pet food company passionate about providing proper, holistic nutrition
for our pets.  Our conversation with Ms. Gainer continues a theme on Raising Indiana to provide
accurate information about the importance of what our pets eat.  If your dog has allergy be sure to tune in!

March 8th--Cathy Ball, VMD, MS with CEVA Animal Health
How do I prevent fleas and ticks is a common question we hear at Raising Indiana.  Dr. Ball
discusses how the CEVA Animal Health line of products including Vectra for Dogs and
Vectra3D can help prevent fleas and ticks.  Hudson tested and approved!

March 15th--Linda Westin from Friends of Cookeville Putnam County Animals
President of the FOCPCA, Mrs. Westin, has exciting news about the first-of-its-kind P.E.T. Care
Campus being designed and built in Cookeville, Tennessee from funds raised by this non-profit
organization.  Shelter Directors, Humane Society Directors and animal welfare caregivers
should not miss this podcast!

March 22nd--Dr. Jean Dodds of Hemopet
Dr. Dodds founded Hemopet, a non-profit animal blood bank & greyhound rescue/
adoption program, in 1986.  She is a highly-respected authority of endocrine disorders
in dogs, titer testing and vaccinations.  We’ll be speaking with Dr. Dodds regarding the later topic—
vaccinations of our pets.  Dr. Dodds will return to Raising Indiana later in the year to discuss her
other various expertises.

We had an overwhelming response of audience questions for Dr. Dodds.  We’ll be presenting an accompanying blog for this podcast.  Dr. Dodds was kind enough to answer all of our questions there.

**We want to disclaim that Raising Indiana is not against vaccinating our companion animals.  For the safety of our pet population it is important that the majority of the herd population be vaccinated against common diseases.  Please discuss all vaccine options with your veterinainian.

March 29th--Lisa Spector
Luke is in his element with Lisa Spector from Through a Dog’s Ear.  Did you know Luke used to sing opera to his first dog, Malcolm?  Well, we can’t wait to discuss the applied theories of calming your pet in various situations with classical music!

April 5th--Robert Mueller, co-founder of BARF World
We so enjoyed our first podcast with Mr. Mueller that we jumped at the chance to have him back to
discuss disease and diet with Luke.  Catch up with the first interview here:

This has been a popular topic with many audience questions that Mr. Mueller will answer in an accompanying blog post.

April 12t-- Nick Dodman, BVMS from Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Dodman will be joining us and Indy to discuss his books The Well-Adjusted Dog and Puppy’s
First Steps.  Dr. Dodman is one of the world’s most celebrated veterinary behaviorists and prolific
authors.  He also has a book about dogs behaving badly—watch out Indy!            

April 19th-- Susan Lauten, PhD
We are so excited for Dr. Lauten’s Raising Indiana podcast on nutrition!  As our pets grow and
mature one of the most defining aspects on their health is nutrition.  Dr. Lauten began Pet Nutrition Consulting in 2001, and she works daily with veterinary specialists, pet owners and veterinarians to provide the appropriate nutritional recommendations.

April 26th--Dog Scouts of America
Dog Scouts of America was founded in 1995 as a non-profit dedicated to enriching the lives of
pet owners and their dogs.  This is going to be fun!  DSA has so many fun programs and events—
they love learning new things & so does Indy!

May 3rd-- Kat Martin
Kat Martin from Nashville’s Dogs and Kat has been voted Nashville’s Best Dog Trainer 4 years in a row! Not to mention that she runs the very fabulous See Spot Eat boutique and treat shop.  We’ll chat with Kat about puppy socialization and training.

Indy, Luke and myself have many more exciting guests coming up on future Raising Indiana podcasts. 

Don’t forget we’ve had amazing experts on for previous podcasts such as Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Stanley Coren and Dr. Sharon Startup, to name a few.  You can listen to all the past podcasts at

Raising Indiana airs every Thursday at 8pm EST on!

Here’s to Raising Indiana and all of our pets to be the best they can be!
Raising Indiana Producer, Sheila Rinks

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who Needs Words?

Who Needs Words? Crows? You? Wild Gorillas? Alison

A wonderful piece
by Bill Blakemore and ABC News. Thanks to Jan Casey for sharing. Read the
entire article at the link below.

"But various
mammals, including not only dolphins and whales but African wild dogs and
Norwegian rats, many species of bird, and even spiders and insects are now
being discovered by scientists around the world to have complex vocalizations
and other sound-wave communication systems so complex that old notions that
human language is somehow fundamentally unique are being thrown in doubt.

It’s also opening
up a broad new field in which scientists are exploring that ancient question:
whether and how the mental experience of animals is different from ours:

Are animals’
thought-processes, self-reflections, feelings for others, sense of enjoyment,
and even possible moral systems and consciousness itself (whatever that is)
different only by degree and complexity from ours, or is there a more
fundamental divide?

These expanding
scientific studies can also be great fun. Animals tickle our fancy in many
ways, and often fascinate us.

Most recently, the
fact that countless millions of humans around the world click on thousands of
videos of animal behavior found on the World Wide Web is itself evidence of
some form of intense communication in them — often without “words” or any other
sounds from the animals."

by Bill Blakemore

Courtesy of ABC News and Bill Blakemore

Friday, January 20, 2012

Novartis Suspends Production of Some Medications

Novartis Suspends Production of Interceptor, Sentinel,
Program, Clomicalm and Deramaxx

January 18, 2012

Please discuss all
medication options and changes with your pet’s doctor—even natural supplements,
over-the-counter meds and store bought flea and tick treatments. And don't miss our upcoming Raising Indiana conversation with Cathy Ball with Vectra3D regarding medications and flea/tick treatments.

Over the past month
Novartis closed an important manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Nebraska
in response to consumer complaints it has received regarding a number of its
leading human consumer medications. The FDA issued a highly critical report of
that plant (see here) after an
inspection in June of last year. On January 8th, Novartis announced in a press release
that it was voluntarily recalling a number of its leading human products
produced at the plant including Excedrin, NoDoz, Bufferin and Gas-X while it
strengthens quality standards. On January 5th, Novartis sent a letter to
veterinarians informing them that it was suspending production and shipments of
the following Novartis Animal Health (NAH) brands including Interceptor Flavor
Tabs, Sentinel Flavor Tabs, Clomicalm, Program Tablets and Suspension, and
Milbemite. The letter also noted that production of Deramaxx which was just
recently moved to the Lincoln
plant will also be affected although the company will continue to ship that
product from existing inventory.

The production
suspension is leaving pet owners looking for these products subject to the
inventory on hand with their local veterinarian and with discount suppliers
such as As those supplies are exhausted, veterinarians will be
obligated to prescribe competing substitutes such as Heartgard,
Trifexis, Advantage Multi, and Rimadyl.
After learning about the situation, some consumers are asking for alternatives
even when stocks are on hand. Novartis has not given an indication of when
production might resume however they have stated that the recent actions were
coordinated with the involvement of health authorities. With the FDA’s
involvement, there is the possibility that the closure could be lengthy if it
reaches the level of problems recently experienced at facilities owned by
Johnson & Johnson, Genzyme, and Hospira.

Courtesy of

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Motion Sickness

                                                Bailey enjoying a fall car ride

We had just turned into our subdivision--the finish line of
a successful car ride and visit to Dr. B in sight. I looked at him in the
rearview mirror. He looked back with that familiar expression. 
We weren’t going to make it…

Motion sickness is more commonly seen in puppies than adult
dogs primarily because the ear structures used for balance are not fully
matured yet. There are many adult dogs that
still experience motion sickness long after the ear structures develop

My Bailey is one of those dogs.

Whether puppy or adult there are a few things you can do to
make travel easier and more fun for you and your pooch.

First schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian
for a physical and to discuss the issue.

Granted getting to those
first few appointments may be a little stressful so consider
crating your dog or placing several old towels or blankets down
to make clean up easy. It’s also often helpful if the pet faces
forward during travel to eliminate sickness.
A secure doggie seat belt will help with proper placement. 
If Sadie is riding in the front passenger seat please be aware that
passenger airbags can pose a danger to pets. And remember, your dog is not nauseous on
purpose (would you be?) so never punish or ridicule a pet with motion
sickness. A simple “That’s okay, we’ll
clean it up when we get home.” or “Does your tummy feel better now?” in a
soothing voice may make you & the dog feel a little better.

Teach Sadie that car rides are a wonderful experience. With the car parked
and engine off, lead Sadie close to it and offer a yummy treat.
Now open the car door and offer the yummy treat. Working slowly
over several days or weeks (at your dog’s comfort level) place Sadie in
the car or have her jump into the seat as yummy treats rain down. 
When your pooch learns that the car is a fun place, start the engine. 
You’ll slowly add backing down the driveway and touring your
neighborhood before venturing out for longer trips. Move at a pace
comfortable for Sadie and her tummy. If she does suffer nausea don’t
become frustrated, simply go back one step and
work forward from there.

Once your dog has the hang of things you may want to phase out
the yummy treats since an empty tummy is best for travel.

If it’s safe, crack or open the car windows slightly when
traveling. This will help equalize air pressure in the vehicle and allow
fresh air to circulate. Keeping the car cool will help, too.

Bailey and I once traveled two hours in 15 degree weather with
three windows open (we repeated the 2 hour trip the next day with 4 inches
of snow on the ground). Yes, all heat vents were pointed in my
direction and on full blast! Keeping fresh air moving is key to keeping
Bailey’s tummy happy—my toes can thaw out later.

Ginger has a calming effect on tummies, so you might try
offering one or two gingersnap cookies 15 minutes before your next car trip.

Try changing vehicles. Maybe your pooch has grown to associate
mom’s SUV with motion sickness but dad’s sedan makes a car trip
easier on her tummy.

I have a friend whose dog must ride in the family truck, on the
middle of the backseat, facing forward.

Making your destination a fun one will help build a positive
reinforcer that car travel equals fun trips to the dog park,
hiking and pet store for browsing for a new toy.

If you have more than one dog, try putting both dogs in the
car together. Some pooches feel more
secure if their playmate is with them on car trips.

If these suggestions do not relieve the problem then you may
want to discuss the option of medication with your vet. 
Never give Sadie any medication, even over-the-counter,
without first discussing it with your vet.
Anti-nausea drugs, antihistamines and phenothiazine all work to calm
nervous tummies and riders. But as with
any medication therapy, it should be an owner’s last option for treatment.

Bailey is in the small percentage of pooches for which the above classical
conditioning and natural remedies have not been effective. He
does require medication for even the shortest trips.

A little patience, practice, planning (car trips are not
spontaneous for Bailey) and a positive attitude can help both
pooch and owner overcome motion sickness.

***We should note that some dogs may have a learned fear of
travel. They may foul a vehicle through
no fault of their own but because of a previous traumatic experience. 
Maybe they were dumped onto a roadside from a
car? As with motion sickness, the animal
should never be punished for this behavior.
Please speak with your vet about this behavior, seek help from a
certified animal behaviorist and ask your local positive reinforcement trainer
for tips on classical conditioning.

Photo courtesy of Amy Callahan Photography

Sheila Rinks is the editor of Finding Fuzzybutt Four, producer of the Raising Indiana podcast and shares her home with her husband, 4 Great Pyrenees and 2 very well-fed kitties.

Raising Indiana

Hey Puppers! Don't forget that Indy has his own website now--  My how they grow up fast!
And tonight we have Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Patricia McConnell of Dr. McConnell is THE source of positive information for training and animal behavior.
You can find all of our previous podcasts at
If you haven't heard Raising Indiana yet... what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Saga of Pupper vs. Kitty Part 2

Bailey was adopted from our local animal shelter so I know
nothing of those critical early weeks of life when puppies should be properly
introduced to the world and socialized.
I also have no genetic history of his parents or grandparents. There are some experts, such as Dr. Stanley
Coren and Dr. Ian Dunbar, who suggest that if an animal is not properly
socialized and nurtured before the age of three months that the animal may have
a learned behavioral deficit if you will.
Was Bailey doomed by being a shelter puppy? Was there anything I could do to make up for
the lack of nurture and love that I assume he missed between birth and three
months? Not to second guess the experts
but all of my current pets, minus Jack-Jack, were acquired after the critical
adjustment and learning period that experts speak of. And I would classify most as “normal”. Could they be better? Of course.
But so could I. I cannot worry
for a period of Bailey’s life that I had no control over. I can only move forward with him.

At nine months of age I saw the first marker of rage from
Bailey. Uncontrollable. Out of ordinary and out of character. Unexpected.
Frightening. Life changing.

I was looking at not a sweet Retriever, nor a gentle Pyrenees. I was
watching what can best be described as the rage and “red zone” actions of a typical
bully breed pushed beyond reason. Not to
stereo type bully breeds, all breeds can exhibit “red zone” behavior.

We had, had dog fights before in our home. With two adult male (neutered) dogs, fights
were not common or severe but we were schooled in the proper handling of fighting
animals to ensure safety for all. But
that day in the backyard I knew more would be needed of me to help Bailey.

Always interested in animal behavior and training, I threw
myself into learning all I could.

I knew that I was Bailey’s only hope. I had adopted him, I loved him, and I had an
emotional bond with him that if rehomed his next owner might not have. I learned that dogs who are rehomed have a
high rate of being returned to shelters or worse. It’s easily explained by thinking that the
first owner loved an animal and each consecutive owner may love or care a
little less about the animal until the pet becomes a burden. This is not to say that rehoming should never
be an option for owners or that those owners are failures. The exact opposite is true. Rehoming may save an animal’s life when the
only other option is euthanasia due to aggression or biting. But those animals should only be placed with
experienced owners fully capable of handling those behavioral issues.

Bailey is now three years old and the tantrums, as we will
call his actions for the sake of story telling, continue. We have learned that he has resource guarding
issues—food, his owners, toys, cardboard boxes, pretty much anything… We also discovered that two of our dogs
readily back down to Bailey’s growls and warnings. Deciding it is better to let the crazy dog have
his card board box than fight over it.
That leaves Supermax. He does not
back down. He prefers to think the box
should belong to him.

Until recently Bailey has ignored our two cats, Lazarus
& Jack-Jack. Now he does not want
the kitties near his “things” or even near him.
If the kitties take one step too far down the hall then all hell breaks

I cannot figure out why Bailey’s wrath is now fully focused
in on the cats.

But I saw equal part odd and funny thing yesterday. Behind my back I heard the familiar growling
and chasing of Bailey after a kitty. We
have adopted an “Ignore” treatment when he misbehaves. We simply remove Bailey from the situation
without a word and place him in his “time out” area for 10-15 minutes. As I walked Bailey away from the scene to his
spot of thought and ponder, I heard the spitting and growling of Jack-Jack fast
approaching. Jack-Jack had decided to
retaliate. He was all puffed up, bushy
tailed and spitting. He chased Bailey
right out the back door.

It gave me a new perspective on this Saga. Maybe Pupper vs. Kitty is not correct at
all. Maybe it should be the Saga of
Kitty vs. Pupper.

Recommended Reading
for this week- Mine! By Jean Donaldson available at

Sheila Rinks is the editor of Finding Fuzzybutt Four, producer of the Raising Indiana podcast and shares her home with her husband, 4 Great Pyrenees and 2 very well-fed kitties.


We have a new addition in our home. Lissette, a
Great Pyrenees/Deerhound mix, is our newest foster dog. 
What a beauty she is, too. Inside and out. At only a year old
she is a curious combination of puppy and elegance. She’s
lithe and spirited just as a Deerhound should be, but turn
her loose in the backyard after nightfall and she is all Great Pyrenees. 
That is a very polite way of saying she has the vocal chords of a
large guardian breed and she isn’t afraid to use them.

Lissette came to us from a local rescue group. She was rescued from an
area shelter. Her life before the shelter is a mystery. She is well
groomed and housebroken. Could she have been an
adored pet? Her left ear bears an odd split at the tip-an exact cut,
not a tear and well healed. Was she marked in some way by a farmer? 
She is severely underweight. Was she a stray without food or the victim of
the slow economy with a family no longer able to feed her? Her trusting
ease with humans and other animals does not suggest she was abused
or neglected but then one never knows. Does any of this really matter? 
She’s safe now with a happy, healthy future ahead.

She is inside as I write. Quiet. And very curious about her
surroundings. My four huntsmen, as I affectionately call my Great Pyrenees,
are so settled in their ways and know what is expected of them
(not that they always deliver) that life moves at a predictable speed
around here. They know every table, chair, picture frame and dust
gathering knick-knack this old house has to offer. So it’s a very special
perspective when a new animal enters our lives and household. 
Lissette insists on investigating every inch of the home and yard. 
It’s entertaining watching her sniff, crawl under tables and chairs
and maneuver between the couch back and wall. 
None of the huntsmen are able to accomplish that last one.

She is happy, too. You can tell by her gate, bright eyes and fluffy
raised tail. That makes the frosty winter walks worth each
step and the extra work not as tedious.

Fostering an animal is a commitment to the unknown—temperament,
training, health, time. I do not know how long Lissette will call this place

“foster home”, some fosters reside with their families for months
before adoption. Attachment is inevitable--especially when the
animal is as beautiful and sweet as Lissette. It’s difficult to say
goodbye not matter how long a dog is with you.

But fostering is one of the single most rewarding acts
anyone can do to help save lives. Knowing
you have helped save a life and have had a hand in selecting a dog’s forever
family makes the extra work, cold nights and teary goodbyes a little easier.

Lissette is available for adoption through AARF in Tennessee There
are thousands just like her waiting to be adopted or fostered. If you would
like to adopt or foster an animal please contact your local animal
shelter or Humane Society, or visit

Sheila Rinks is the editor of Finding Fuzzybutt Four, producer of the Raising Indiana podcast and shares her home with her husband, 4 Great Pyrenees and 2 very well-fed kitties.

Just how much do our dogs empathize with us & other animals?

Just how much do our dogs empathize
with us and other animals?
Author, Bob McMillan

Dogs, writes Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, are the only animal
prone to make friends across the board with other species. In his
The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving,
he suggests that a wolf in the wild might cozy up to a rabbit —
but only to eat it. Many dogs will adopt a litter of rabbits and
nurture them. Masson believes dogs have uniquely benefited from
their thousands of years with man by learning empathy.

He says that man, likewise, has learned to be more loving and
empathetic by sharing his home and life with dogs. A lot more
patient, too, I’d say.

While he does draw on recent research, the book is mostly
anecdotal, Masson’s observations about Benji, his golden lab who
flunked out of blind guide dog school because he was too stubborn,
but who never met a person or other animal he didn’t love.

I’m behind in my reading. But it’s winter, a cold rain is coming
down and even Sully, my beagle mix, just stands at the door
scanning for summer. Nothing but mud. So, I get to read while the
dogs sack out in disgust. The book pile is big. Masson’s book came out in 2010.

Masson’s theory is pretty broad. After all, some other animals,
elephants and dolphins, say, become friends with particular dogs or cats,
and you can watch chimps with their “pet” dogs on YouTube.
On the other hand, some dogs, because of genetics or abuse, don’t
want to be friends with anyone. I empathize.

But Masson writes that canines are predisposed towards love.
What sets dogs apart from their wolf cousins is thousands of years
of living with man, and being molded by man through breeding and selection.

My Irish wolfhound, Finn, is who I think of when I read Masson’s
stories about Benji. I’ve lived with several dogs, but Finn constantly
makes my jaw drop. His heart matches his huge stature. He goes
well out of his way to make new friends. He thrives on it and
complains when I won’t let him cross a busy
street to greet another new dog. He bathes our old, cranky cat at night.
He rubs noses with donkeys, parrots and babies. He moves between
dogs when they play too rough. Finn looks at me disapprovingly
if I raise my voice to one of the other dogs. Sometimes I think
I’m on the wrong end of the leash.

But there’s Cuchulain, my previous giant hound, who barred
his sizable teeth when strangers approached. He flipped cats
off his spot in the couch. He chased squirrels and cows. He looked
at me disapprovingly when I raised my voice at him.
Every dog is different.

Still, there’s a growing body of research that suggests that dogs
are keenly tuned to our feelings and are, in fact, capable of altruism.
You’ve probably seen a bigger dog pull his punches when he plays
tug with a small one. Dogs show signs of a sense of fairness. They follow a moral code.

An article in New Science in 2000 looked at a study by researchers in
Budapest that found dogs mirroring the moods of their owners,
much like a human child is fearful if the parent is overtly afraid,
or is willing to explore new things as long as the
parent (or owner) was nearby. The stronger the bond, the more
likely the dog was to be in sync with the owner.

A similar study by the University of Porto in Portugal
found similar empathetic displays in dogs. They concluded that
dogs, being kin to wolves, are hardwired to cooperate with their “pack,”
and that dogs, as they learned complex skills
like herding and hunting with humans, may have gained a more complex
understanding of human thinking.

Which is what Masson was getting at. Dogs know us better than any other animal and
still like us. For at least the last 15,000 years and probably much
longer, we’ve lived side by side. We like horses and pigs, too. But a horse is
too big to live and sleep inside with you and a pig isn’t the first one you
want to cuddle after he’s rolled in the mud. For us, dogs are the perfect

Masson doesn’t ignore cats. He acknowledges that they’ve
evolved alongside man, too. They’re by nature solitary hunters.
After thousands of years of being fed, housed, groomed and petted
by man, they ... well, they tolerate us. But dogs,
sociable pack animals, crave our company and thank us for it.

The prevailing theory of human-canine evolution is that the
first domesticated dogs hung around human garbage heaps for
scraps and slowly lost their fear of people. Then they evolved
through training and selection into herd dogs and
hunting dogs. Where’s the love? Masson suggests it’s
a happy side-effect, and one of the main reasons we keep dogs
with us today even when we don’t raise herds or hunt.

The dog’s natural environment today? In our homes with the family.

Over time we’ve selected the dogs that didn’t bite, that
cooperated with us, that made us feel good with their antics and
loving companionship. They’ve tuned into our feelings for other
animals and they’ve learned there are advantages to
not gobbling down the family chicken or biting the family cow.

As they acquired empathy — an understanding of the feelings of others —
dogs have extended those insights to other species. And become
“dogs who couldn’t stop loving.”

As I was writing this, a friend e-mailed photos of a dachshund
raising a baby pig with her own litter of pups. I understood the
look of love and bliss in the mother’s eyes as she sheltered the
little pink pig. Many researchers caution against anthropomorphism,
reading human feelings into something an animal does.
Many still hold that animals have no feelings at all.

Bunk. When Finn plunks his food bowl down in front of me,
I know exactly what it means. He’s not commenting on the stock market.
When he head-butts me into a seat and nudges my arm around him,
I’m pretty clear on what that means, too. He
wants to cuddle. I empathize. And not just because he’s
too big to resist. His heart is.

Bob McMillan is lead paginator for the
Herald-Citizen and shares his home with giant hounds and cats.

Top of Form

Bottom of