This photograph of a solid black wolf by Kurt Kemnitzer was named “Photo of the Day” for February 10, 2021 by Smithsonian Magazine. Kemnitzer actually snapped the picture in November 2020. While I’ve seen plenty of black domestic dogs, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a solid black wolf. As a bona fide wolf lover whose favorite color is black, this photo is almost like a dream to me.
Tag Archives: animals
As a massive arctic hurricane swept in from the northwestern Pacific and into the northeastern U.S., panda bears at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C. did what many animals do with an abundance of snow. They had fun!
“Boy, were we all stupid to believe he actually stood for Equal Justice? His corrupt friends all come first.”
Joe Maldonado-Passage (a.k.a. Joe Exotic), in response to not receiving a pardon from Donald Trump
Maldonado-Passage is serving a 22-year prison sentence for plotting to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin, among other charges.
“I just got off the phone with Bed Bath & Beyond. They’re dropping MyPillow. Just got off the phone not five minutes ago. Kohl’s, all these different places.”
Mike Lindell, founder of MyPillow, about major retail stores deciding not to stock his products anymore
Lindell, a strong Trump supporter, helped to pay a $2 million bond for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old accused of killing 2 men and wounding a third in Wisconsin in August 2020.
Yes, it’s been another crappy week here in the United States, with the ongoing madness of the 2020 presidential election, refuse of the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, and worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help soothe everyone’s souls (short of providing free alcohol and unlimited sex), I present these pictures of baby goats.
Since this has been such an awful week here in the U.S., I feel the best photos are those of baby donkeys and elephants. Anyone familiar with American politics shouldn’t miss the analogy. But please tell me – what images make you happier?
“Man, unlike the animals, has never learned that the sole purpose in life is to enjoy it.”
A lion pride naps on a road in Kempiana Contractual Park, South Africa, an area tourists do not see. The park has been shut down due to COVID-19 concerns.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds” was an innovative horror film. A small, peaceful town in northern California suddenly finds itself the target of avian rage. Seemingly unprovoked and without explanation, untold numbers of birds begin assaulting the townsfolk; leading to death and destruction in the most surreal ways. Some film historians consider “The Birds” to be a call to action for the burgeoning environmental movement.
But I consider a movie that came out nine years later, “Frogs”, to be an even greater homage to environmental action. It points specifically to environmental degradation caused by irresponsible and reckless human activity. Whereas “The Birds” deals with one type of animal that suddenly goes insane, “Frogs” gathers an entire gallery of creatures that seek revenge on their human adversaries. Just about everyone likes birds. But few truly like spiders, snakes and alligators – the monsters that seem to band together in “Frogs”. Even snapping turtles and clever geckoes get into the act! And yes, frogs join in the mayhem with their ominous croaking, as if directing the chaos.
Unlike “The Birds” where both characters and audience are perplexed by the deranged airborne assaults, it becomes clear the frightening swamp creatures inhabiting “Frogs” are colluding to exact their own brand of justice. As laughable as the antics can be at times, I always find myself gleeful at the sight of upper class people, trapped on an island off the coast of Georgia on Independence Day weekend, suddenly realizing their wealth and luxurious possessions can’t save them from the brewing ecological nightmare.
It’s the same feeling I get when I see bullfighting matadors gored by the massive horned beasts they stab with spears or when a circus elephant decides to bitch slap people dancing on its back. It’s also the identical sense of euphoria I’ve been getting in recent weeks as I read of vacant cities resulting in clear skies and see pictures of wild animals strolling through urban streets because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day 2020, a movement begun as the realities of an industrialized society became brutally clear. A number of celebrations and gatherings had been planned for this day. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has stifled those activities, and the revelry has been limited to virtual commemorations. But, as raucous as some festivities have been in the past – with the usual cadre of corporate scions sneering overhead – perhaps there may be no better way to celebrate Earth Day than watching the world go quiet.
Satellite photos of many locations taken before and after mandatory quarantines and lock-downs exhibit how the reduction of human and vehicular traffic has resulted in less-polluted skies. On clear days, for example, overhead views of Lake Michigan often reveal shipwrecks on the sea bottom. But recent COVID-19 restrictions have produced many more of these days.
Undoubtedly, the disease has been heartbreaking and tragic. But as Earth Day 2020 quietly sunsets, I still feel things couldn’t be more glorious with quarantining and social distancing have become common practice.
A fox wanders through a residential street near West Middlesex University Hospital in London, England on April 2, 2020. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
Jackals howl in Hayarkon Park, in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel. (Oded Balilty/AP)
A Hindu holy man feeds monkeys at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, the country’s most revered Hindu temple on March 31, 2020. Guards, staff and volunteers are ensuring animals and birds on the temple grounds don’t starve during the country’s lockdown, which halted temple visits and stopped the crowds that used to line up to feed the animals. (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)
Horses in Huajchilla, Bolivia, on the outskirts of La Paz, wander a deserted highway amid government restrictions that limit residents to essential shopping in an attempt to contain the spread of the new coronavirus on April 15, 2020. (Juan Karita/AP)
Two women take pictures of the pelicans in a deserted St James’ Park due to the Coronavirus outbreak in London, England on April 14, 2020. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)
Cats eat food on a street that is almost empty before a nighttime curfew imposed by the government to help stem the spread of the coronavirus in Beirut, Lebanon on April 3, 2020. (Hassan Ammar/AP)
A lone peacock walks along a street in Dubai on April 1, 2020, past shops closed during the pandemic. (Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)
Fallow deer from Dagnam Park in Romford, England rest and graze on the grass outside homes in the Harold Hill community on April 2, 2020. The deer are a regular sight in the area around the park, but as the roads have become quieter due to the nationwide lockdown, the deer have staked a claim on new territories in the vicinity. (León Neal/Getty Images)
A young puma wanders the streets of Santiago, Chile shows on March 24, 2020. According to Chile’s Agricultural and Livestock Service, the animal arrived from nearby mountains in search for food as fewer people occupy the streets due to COVID-19. (Andres Pina/ATON CHILE/AFP via Getty Images)
A wild deer, from a herd used to mingling with and be fed by the local population, roams a deserted street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown, in the port city of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka on March 31, 2020. (STR/AFP Getty Images)
Mountain goats roam the streets of Llandudno, Wales. The goats normally live on the rocky Great Orme but are occasional visitors to the seaside town, but a local councilor told the BBC that the herd was drawn this time by the lack of people and tourists due to the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantine measures. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A stray dog walks in front of an empty historic India Gate as a nationwide lockdown continues over the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 30, 2020, in New Delhi, India. (Yawar Nazir)
Stray dogs stand on a deserted square in Pristina, Kosovo on April 1, 2020, during a government-imposed curfew from 5pm to 5am as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19. (Armend Nimani/AFP)
Sika deer cross a road on March 12, 2020, in Nara, Japan. Like a number of tourist hotspots around the country, Nara, a popular ancient city where free-roaming deer are an attraction for tourists, has seen a decline in visitor numbers in recent weeks amid concern over the spread of COVID-19. Some groups of deer have begun roaming in the city’s residential area due to shortage of food partially fed from tourists, according to media reports. (Tomohiro Ohsumi)
A seabird swims across clear waters by a gondola in a Venice canal on March 17, 2020, as a result of the stoppage of motorboat traffic, following Italy’s lockdown within the new coronavirus crisis. (Andrea Pattaro/AFP)
Sea turtle hatchlings scamper towards the water. (Ben Hicks)
The History Channel’s “Life After People” series examined what the world could look like if humanity disappeared. It didn’t describe what might cause a massive die-off of humans, but a variety of experts discussed how flora and fauna would slowly consume and ultimately destroy human-made creations and induce a chemical- and pollution-free world.
Hm…would that be a bad thing?
The animal rights movement in the United States is nothing new. But the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” was something of an anomaly when the New York State Legislature granted Henry Bergh a charter for it in 1866. In the more than 150 years since, the ASPCA has been advocate for the netherworld of animal welfare. The Texas branch of the SPCA was incorporated on September 22, 1938 and works in conjunction with state and local leaders to oversee the well-being various non-human creatures (not including, of course, politicians and child molesters).
Currently, the ASPCA is monitoring the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which hit the East Coast last week. After the debacle involving Hurricane Katrina – and the literally millions of animals forcibly left stranded to be killed or die in agony – people demanded better protections for human and animal survivors of natural or even human-made disasters.
But, just as importantly, we now understand that animal abuse is tied to more severe problems in society. Some of the world’s worst serial killers, for example, had a history of animal cruelty. While most people who do something mean to an animal won’t turn into a Hannibal Lecter-type monster, we take it seriously now and often involve law enforcement.
I implore everyone to help in any way possible. Besides, animals actually appreciate when you help them out.
“Goodnight, little boy. I love –” I stopped, catching sight of the blank floor space against the wall, next to the closet in my room. He wasn’t there, curled up into a crescent of silver and white atop a towel riddle with holes and tears. Wolfgang was gone.
I was reaching for a lamp on an end table, when I started to tell him goodnight and that I love him – as I’d done for years. I remained in that odd position – propped up on my left elbow, right arm stretched out towards the lamp – for what was probably just a few seconds, but felt like several minutes. I wondered how long I could hold that position without dropping dead.
I finally shut off the lamp and laid back onto my trio of pillows. Beneath a single sheet, clad in nothing but skin and body hair, I felt a stick of anxiety materialized in my throat. I rattled off my usual stanza of prayers to all those who’ve gone before me, pleading for their protection and their strength.
I looked again at the spot on the floor where Wolfgang would camp out every night; that ragged towel – seemingly held together by strings – bunched up beneath him.
I don’t know why, but Wolfgang had a fetish for towels. It may have come from his previous daddy, Tom*, my former friend and roommate, who carried the puppy around in a lunch cooler; an old purple beach towel of mine that he’d stuffed into it. The towel provided some comfort to a tiny critter who would grow into a 20-pound monstrosity filled with eons of canine angst.
In early 2005, I lived and worked temporarily in Northeastern Oklahoma on a government project that was part of the contract my employer, an engineering company, had. The area, bordering Kansas and Missouri, is a mostly toxic wasteland where soil and water had poisoned by decades of lead and zinc mining. I stayed in a nice and recently-built hotel, along with a coworker and our supervisor.
For most of the time I was in Oklahoma, Wolfgang stayed with my parents. But, for the month of May, I rented a car and drove all the way up there because I’d decided to take Wolfgang with me. Some of the hotel staff came to like him. The first time someone with the housekeeping staff heard him barking, she was certain I had a pitbull ensconced in the room. There mere sound of his voice frightened her. But she and a few others were mirthfully surprised to see how small he was.
That little thing can make that much noise?!
Yes, he can!
One night, as I sat at the desk in my hotel room, working on my laptop, I noticed Wolfgang exiting the bathroom with a small white towel in his mouth. Because of his presence, I made a deal with management that no one was to enter the room, unless I was there also or in the event of an emergency. Wolfgang’s bite matched his bark. Consequently, I let bath towels pile up beneath the sink.
A few minutes later, I turned to Wolfgang and was startled to see that he’d removed every single used towel from beneath the sink and to a spot in front of a cabinet. He lay in front of the pile, curled up like a hairy conch shell. I laughed.
I keep trying to think of things like that, now that Wolfgang is gone. It’s the same with my father. Memories of him behaving like the lunatic he was – imitating Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine Jones” persona, threatening to tickly my mother – roll through my mind. It eases the pain of losing both of them within a 5-month period.
Today is the first birthday I’ve marked without either of them. It’s such a weird feeling. How could this happen? Why, in the name of all that’s great and wonderful in this world, did they pass away so close together? Talk about timing!
Last month I finally decided to rummage again through the storage shed in the back yard; a dilapidated structure where my parents stuffed anything and everything they didn’t want or need in the house. It also had doubled as a tool shed for the plethora of gardening equipment my father had accumulated over the years. In the fall of 2014, I carted a few large pieces – a dead lawnmower, an antique weed eater, etc. – to the front yard for him. I taped a cardboard sign with the words “FREE TO GOOD HOME” across the mess and left it all there for whomever. It was gone before day’s end.
At the same time, I retrieved several boxes of old National Geographic magazines. “These don’t belong out here,” I told my father. Old Home & Garden magazines, maybe, but not National Geographic. I hauled them all into my room and rearranged them, alongside my gallery of books.
But last month I found several other items – a few as old as those National Geographics, but more precious. There was a box of handwritten journals by my paternal grandmother, Francisca. A couple of other boxes contained stuff from my childhood: drawings, poems, stories. Among the latter was a one dollar bill paper-clipped to a fragile slip of paper. It was a note from me to my father; thanking him for being such a great daddy. I was about 5 when I wrote that. And he kept it! As an only child, my parents were apt to keep as much about my childhood around as possible. But that a simple, handwritten note dating to the late 1960s would retain a place amidst all of that material stunned me.
And yes, it also made me sad. But I realized – more than ever before – how fortunate I was to have a father as incredible as mine. It’s why I get angry now when I hear people say fathers don’t serve a purpose in this world.
Back in July I visited a weight-lifting gym in East Dallas with a close friend, Pete*, who’s a regular there. It’s a tiny, no-frills joint carved into an aged shopping center; where free weights are the main source of muscle-building and men can work out shirtless. After showering and changing back at his house, Pete and I had dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants near downtown.
At some point, the conversation turned to family, and – with my voice cracking – I emphasized how badly I missed my father. I try not to get emotional in public. Even during my dad’s memorial service in June, I managed to hold it together. But, planted in a booth beneath dim lighting in the restaurant, I just couldn’t remain poised. It must have been the margarita swirls. I was already on my second one.
Pete knows how I feel. He lost his own father 12 years ago. Curiously, our fathers had grown up together in East Dallas neighborhoods now occupied by office buildings and overpriced condos. “My father went to be with his mother,” Pete had told me that night on the phone. I didn’t understand. All of Pete’s grandparents were dead. What was he trying to – aw shit! I don’t know if there’s an etiquette rule for announcing the death of a loved one via telephone, and if there is, I could care less about it.
I still have trouble sitting in the easy chair near the fireplace where my dad used to sit while watching TV. His urn resides quietly on the dirty white brick of the raised hearth. I make it a point to touch it every day and tell my father I love him. His mother had lived to age 97. Why couldn’t he? What is the proper time of year to die? It seems we have rules for everything in our lives these days. Meteorologists can track hurricanes with near-accuracy. As soon as a massive quake struck northeastern Japan in March of 2011, scientists could determine how long it would be before tsunamis struck the Hawaiian Islands and the west coast of the U.S. Why couldn’t the slew of doctors my father had seen over the years not tell me when his body would finally say, ‘To hell with this shit!’?
A few times over the past few months, Wolfgang would stare at that general area for the longest time. I’d feel the pressure change in the house. But it wasn’t a frightening sensation. I knew my father was nearby. He had said more than once he wanted to die in this house and not in a hospital, a menagerie of tubes pouring out of him like overgrown hairs. If I did anything right, I feel it was that. I was able to grant my father his most heartfelt wish.
There are so many echoes of him and Wolfgang around me, now that they’re both gone. And the house is otherwise quiet. I’ve never felt pain like this before. But, on this 53rd birthday of mine, I’m not too distressed. My heart and my mind are filled with the happiness of the lives they lead. I couldn’t ask for more from either of them.
I quietly strode towards the bedroom of my roommate, Tom*, merely expecting to find him asleep. He had just experienced a heart-wrenching loss: putting his 11-year-old miniature schnauzer, Zane*, to sleep. Surely, Tom was exhausted after a long road trip to and from the Northeast Texas town where he was born and raised; the same place where he’d raised Zane.
Zane and I bonded quickly when Tom and me agreed to pool our resources in May of 2002 and share a two-bedroom apartment. I was working temporary gigs, and he had a courier job that left him feeling tired and uneasy. After a car wreck and a major health scare in the fall of 2001, he had managed to put himself back together, while recuperating at his mother’s home back in that Northeast Texas town. Zane’s presence, he told me, comforted him better than the medications he’d been prescribed and the alcohol he’d consume as an additive.
But, during the first week of August 2002, Tom had to return to his mother’s home to tend to a family crisis. When he came back, I informed him that Zane was extremely ill. I didn’t know what was wrong, but the shy little dog had shriveled up to the point where his ribs were visible. Tom spent the next day in bed; holding Zane tightly. He finally headed back to that Northeast Texas hamlet where Zane’s old veterinarian was also located.
Upon arriving at the veterinarian’s office, however, Zane suffered a catastrophic stroke…and never recovered. “My little boy is gone,” Tom cried over the phone that evening from his mother’s house.
I cried with him. So, while I was surprised to find Tom back at the apartment earlier than expected, I was even more surprised to see a tiny ball of silver and white fur crawling around on his bare chest.
On his way back to Dallas, Tom had stopped off in a town east of the city to visit a cousin. In a purely spontaneous decision, he grabbed a newspaper and searched for a miniature schnauzer breeder. He found one and purchased one of the eight-week-old puppies. He named him Docker. Where he came up with that I never knew. But I renamed him Wolfgang a few months later. That’s because he became my dog when Tom and I decided to go our separate ways in January 2003.
It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; albeit an almost equally spontaneous move on my part. In an uncertain time for me (I’d just started a new full-time job that felt insecure and I wanted desperately to move out of a complex that was going to hell), as well as for the nation (we were about to invade Iraq under false pretenses, and the economy remained fragile), taking custody of that dog stood out as a bright moment. Tom left owing me some $700. But I ended up with the dog. I was ill-prepared to have a pet, yet I still felt I came out with the better bargain.
All of that came back to me Wednesday morning, as I carried Wolfgang’s quivering form into the veterinarian’s office. He had gone into some kind of cardiac arrest episode…and never recovered.
Wolfgang’s veterinarian had diagnosed him with a heart murmur a couple of years ago, which explained his occasional coughing / hacking fits. Earlier this year, though, he began experiencing seizure-like episodes. One in early May terrified me: he literally fell over onto one side; a cartoonish action that was anything but funny. An X-ray proved his heart had enlarged and was clamping down on his airway. The seizures, the doctor explained, were actually moments where Wolfgang couldn’t breathe. He put him on two heart medications that would be a daily ritual for the rest of the dog’s life. That life ended sooner than I’d expected – or even wanted.
“I just lost my father,” I whispered to him last Monday night, the 24th. “You can’t leave me also; not now.”
His behavior was actually quite normal this last weekend and into Monday, the 24th. Yet, by Monday evening, I could tell he had trouble breathing and began to suspect the worst. Then it seemed the air around me had thickened, and I sense my father was nearby.
I tried giving Wolfgang the two medicines the doctor had prescribed back in May. I literally had to shove them into his mouth; a little mouth lined with razor-sharp projectiles, backed up by eons of canid ambivalence. I always tried to retract my hand as quickly as possible, but each time he managed to scrape my fingers. Then, on Monday, he did something he’d never done before: he actually impaled one of his dental daggers into my right forefinger. Blood oozed immediately from the gash, as I hurtled the tiny white pills into his food dish and marched into the bathroom. My entire right hand throbbed. It still aches. But I don’t care. He was just a dog. More importantly, he continually spit out those pills. I’ve found bits of them around the den area. It was his last act of wolf-infused defiance and stubbornness. Perhaps he sensed they were of no use at the moment. He was done and wanted to move on from here. Are dogs really that sentient? Do they possess the same level of emotional capacity as their human counterparts?
A variety of studies over the past two decades suggest yes; dogs truly are more emotionally and psychologically complex than we ever realized.
I still find it amazing how we humans become so attached to certain animals. For me, it’s always been dogs. As far back as I can remember, I’ve held a special fascination with the canines among us. Cats and horses are undoubtedly beautiful. But I’m allergic to felines (as a 2004 allergy test proved), and horses are too big and expensive. I’m an all-around animal lover, but dogs secured a tight grip on my mind and in my heart.
I often joked that Wolfgang wasn’t really a miniature schnauzer; he was a previously unclassified species of canine – a miniature wolf. The big mocha brown eyes, soft fur and floppy ears (especially the right one, which rarely stood up, lest he tilt his head back at a certain angle) were just aesthetic ruses. The mere mention of his name incurred occasional chuckles.
“The name fits,” I told people.
Miniature schnauzers are among the 148 breeds of domesticated dog recognized by the American Kennel Club. In addition, there are more than 150 other breeds of domesticated dog not officially acknowledged by the AKC, such as the Russo-European Laika, the Peruvian Inca Orchard, and the Prazsky Krysarik from Czechoslovakia, the world’s smallest dog. Zoologists have also identified more than 100 species of wild canine, such as the South American bush dog, the Australian dingo, and the African basenji, the only dog that doesn’t bark. It produces something of a yodeling sound. Altogether, an estimated 10 billion dogs exist on planet Earth today.
Dogs boast an extensive and impressive lineage. Canines have a longer and more diverse history than any other predatory carnivore, which allowed them to spread across the globe faster than fellow mammals. They belong to the family of mammals called canidae and to the order of carnivora. Zoologists believe all mammals descend from Creodonts, a group of small, meat-eating creatures that first appeared about 100 million years ago. About 55 million years ago, during the Eocene Epoch, a more refined (but not much larger) carnivore, Miacis, arose in North America. Miacis then evolved into Hesperocyon, or Hesperocyoninae – traditionally regarded as the direct ancestor of dogs – between 38 and 26 million years ago. Hesperocyoninae generated 28 sub-species. They were followed by Borophaginae, which produced 66 sub-species, and Caninae with 42. One member of this latter group, a fox-sized animal called Eucyon, played the most critical role in canine evolution.
Arising in North America about 9 million years ago, Eucyon was omnivorous; a unique attribute that allowed it to survive longer than any of its predecessors and outlive even its contemporaries. But Eucyon also had longer leg bones, especially the forelimbs, which increased its running efficiency and therefore, its ability to capture prey. It had a shorter neck than most felines, another top predatory carnivore, which otherwise would have inhibited its ability to tear at flesh. But Eucyon necks compensated for it with the nuchal ligament; a feature that permitted greater rotation of the entire neck column.
Adding to this was the extraordinary development of canine dentition (teeth) and the power of its jaw bones. Together this allowed for actual bone-cracking of its prey. The reason is obvious: inside animal bones is marrow, a rich source of protein. Among all canine species the power of bone-cracking is no more evident than in the family of hyenas. These wild African canines have been known to leave little evidence of a kill; they literally consume an entire animal. Getting inside those bones with its mighty jaw strength helped canines retain their spot as top predators no matter where they migrated.
Between 6 and 4 million years ago, Eucyon began migrating across what is now the Bering Strait into Asia. There it developed into Canis lupus, the gray wolf. Canis lupus then spread further throughout Asia, eventually making its way into Europe, Africa, and India. It also evolved into both variations of itself and canines such as dholes and jackals. About 800,000 years ago canis lupus began tracing its ancestors’ migratory paths back into North America where it continued evolving; again into other wolf species, but also into such animals as the arctic fox and the coyote.
Throughout the next several millennia, wolves continually metamorphosed into various breeds of dogs. At some unknown point, they formed an alliance with humans. How, when and why this occurred are among the top questions for zoologists. It’s quite likely that a human somewhere along the way found an abandoned wolf puppy and, feeling empathy for the animal, kept it and managed to raise it. It’s also likely that canines began following humans, realizing the two-legged beings had a knack for capturing and killing large prey. When the humans moved on, the canines would descend upon the remains of whatever animal was left behind. This, of course, would make dogs scavengers, instead of hunters. But, in a brutal world of survival, that’s what was necessary.
It’s more probable, however, that all of these incidents took place a number of times, all over the world and over a number of years. As with other animals, such as horses and bovines, canine evolution eventually fell in line with human evolution; that is, their domestication coincided with the development of more complex and wide-spread human societies.
The close relationship humans generated with dogs means people began subjecting these animals to selective breeding, in which they were propagated for specific purposes. Initially, dogs served two primary roles in their union with humans: hunting game and herding livestock. Later, they were bred to be protectorates, guides, and, of course, companions. Consequently, we now have a plethora of dog breeds. No other animal displays such an extraordinary level of diversity in size, color and shape as canines.
Dogs’ sensibilities are extremely acute. While their visual resolving powers are less efficient than humans, their eyes are more sensitive to light and movement. Dogs can hear sounds four times farther away than humans and are able to locate the source of that sound in six-hundredths of a second. Dogs’ olfactory capabilities are their most extraordinary attribute. The average dog has over 200 million scent receptors in its nasal folds, compared to a human’s five million.
Dogs are certainly among the most intelligent of mammals; perhaps the smartest among non-primates. Like humans, dogs appear to be sensitive to vocal inflections and emotional queues. A study at the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom, that dogs “form abstract mental representations of positive and negative emotional states, and are not simply displaying learned behaviours when responding to the expressions of people and other dogs.”
The researchers presented 17 domesticated dogs with pairings of images and sounds conveying different combinations of positive and negative emotional expressions in both humans and dogs. The sources of sensory input – photos of facial expressions and audio clips of vocalizations (voices or barks) from unfamiliar subjects – were played simultaneously to the dogs, without any prior training. Researcher noted the dogs spent more time looking at the facial expressions which matched the emotional state of the vocalization.
Another study in Hungary went further by conducting MRIs on 13 dogs – six border collies, five golden retrievers, a German shepherd and a Chinese crested. The animals were trained to lie motionless during the procedures, although they were awake and unrestrained. Researchers found that dogs processed words with the left hemisphere and processed pitch with the right hemisphere – just like humans.
We’ll never know when the bond between humans and dogs was established. Whether they save our lives, protect our property, or provide simple companionship, dogs are an indelible part of the human existence. For dog lovers such as myself, that relationship is indescribable.
* Name changed.
“Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History.” Richard H. Tedford & Xiaoming Wang. Columbia University Press, 2008.
“New Encyclopedia of the Dog.” Bruce Fogle, DVM. Dorling Kindersley, 2000.