The Making of Rex 2.0
This month, Reason magazine takes a closer look at BioArts' ongoing efforts to expand and improve dog-cloning. The article provides some nuts-and-bolts details that were new to me and raises intriguing questions about the differences between cloning and traditional breeding. Check out the reader reactions as well.
A $75 Million Bone
If the obstacle to pet overpopulation is money--consider that challenge handled. Orthopedic surgeon, inventor, and 346th richest American Gary Michelson will give $25 million to the brainy someone who conjures a safe, one-time non-surgical means to sterilize male and female cats and dogs. And that's not all. Michelson's non-profit Found Animals Foundation will provide an additional $50 million to support the research into plausible approaches. Michelson and others, including the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, believe an inexpensive, convenient alternative to traditional spay and neuter is the essential missing line of attack in the battle to save millions of dogs and cats from euthanasia every year. My favorite line in the USA Today story on the program is when Michelson says, "No one will stop what they're doing and turn their attention to this problem for $10 million. That's not enough."
A Little Breathing Room for the Pekingese
The United Kingdom’s 135-year-old Kennel Club announced it will review of the breed standards for every pedigree dog due to concerns that these ideals are contributing to serious health problems. (First up, reevaluating the flat face standard for the Pekingese, which makes breathing difficult.)
The decision, which has been long in coming, was essentially forced on the club after a BBC documentary in August ("Pedigree Dogs Exposed") cataloged severe illness, pain, discomfort, disability and deformities in purebred dogs -- including champions. As a result of these revelations, the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) withdrew support for the Kennel Club’s crowning dog show, Crufts, and BBC was reconsidering its role in the event. These developments succeeded in capturing the attention of breeders and judges, where struggling dogs had apparently failed.
The next question: What are they thinking over at the American Kennel Club?
Stopping to Smell the Lupines
You probably know about the great work of scat dogs, which help biologists and ecologists by efficiently sniffing out "evidence" of endangered species such as wolves, grizzly bears and right whales. But have you heard of canine flower detectors? In a ground-breaking program, the Oregon Nature Conservancy teamed up with a Belgian Sheepdog named Rogue to track down Kincaid lupine. These dwindling native flowers support the Fender's blue, an endangered butterfly found only in that state's Willamette Valley. The canine surveys will be used as part of a conservation strategy.
Batman and Ted
I've been enjoying the dog days of August with lots of trail time with my pups, and so missed a few newspapers and some dog news including the tale of Batman. But I figure with the tribute to Edward Kennedy planned for the Democratic Convention tonight, I could link to this story about a Minneapolis dog who not only has the same kind of brain cancer as the senior senator but whose cutting-edge treatment may hold some keys to an effective treatment in people. Here's hoping for Batman's speedy recovery and Kennedy's health--and breakthroughs for humans and canines alike.
In our desire to make life better for dogs, we fight against backyard breeders and puppy mills but earlier this week these efforts were joined by a BBC documentary that casts a glaring, unflattering light on the world of breeding show dogs. Based on two years of research, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” explores the devastating health consequences of breeding for the show ring. Through interviews with scientists, vets, historians, activists and representatives from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the documentary catalogs how many purebred dogs suffer severe illness, pain, discomfort, disability and deformities -- including champions.
The tough documentary paints a portrait of the UK's pedigree dog establishment (including the 135-year-old Kennel Club, born out of the eugenics movement, and it's jewel-in-the-crown dog show, Crufts). The majority of these breeder/judges reject science and seem prepared to sacrifice the health, happiness and future of purebred dogs to protect their "ideals" of beauty and breed standard. This is MUST viewing (
available at YouTube) but be warned it's not easy to watch. (10/11/08: I noticed recordings of the documentary have been removed from YouTube.)
If You Feed Pedigree ...
... there is a recall of 20-pound bags of Pedigree Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites purchased from some Albertson's stores in Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada, out of concern over Salmonella. If you have this product, please return it immediately to Albertson's for a full refund.
According to a press release from Pedigree parent company Mars Petcare US, "Pedigree Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites is a multi-component dry pet food. Last week, a component that should have been on hold due to positive testing results was inadvertently shipped to our Tracy, California facility and used in the production of 100 bags of Pedigree Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites with best buy dates of 07/2009."
Out of curiosity, what exactly is a "multi-component" dry pet food? I'm guessing it means fillers like corn and other grains that our dogs don't need. If you have a bag of Pedigree, please check out the ingredients list and let me know.
For tips on how to safely purchase, prepare and handle pet food, please check out this comprehensive resource page from the FDA.
Julia Kamysz Lane
Would You Clone Your Dog?
Leave it to Hollywood. This past Tuesday, California screenwriter Bernann McKinney was the first to buy cloned puppies. The five puppies are genetically identical to McKinney's late beloved Pit Bull, Booger, and were sold for $50,000 by Seoul-based RNL Bio. The real sticker price is $150,000, but McKinney received a discount because she made history and promised to help with publicity. Despite having to sell her home to afford the pups, McKinney describes this as a "miracle." She plans to keep three and donate the other two to be service dogs.
With tens of thousands of shelter dogs yearning for good homes, was this really necessary? There are many legitimate nonprofit organizations that thoughtfully breed, raise and donate service dogs. Surely, McKinney could've offered to raise service dog puppies or donate some money to these groups rather than bring five more dogs into the world. How will McKinney feel if all five puppies do not share the same personality or behavior traits as Booger? If you've ever met identical human twins, it's probably safe to say that each of these pups will be their own individual. So if that's the case, what's the point of cloning them in the first place?
What will the long-term effects be for these puppies? Will they be showered with attention and adored forever or just as long as they're little novelties? Will their health prematurely break down like Dolly the cloned sheep? Her life expectancy was only half that of a traditionally bred sheep. When we choose to clone animals, are we prepared to deal with all of the potential consequences?
Would you clone your dog? Why or why not?
Julia Kamysz Lane
Dog Clones Poised for the Assembly Line
In May, I wrote a post about BioArts' successful efforts to clone dogs. Well, not three months later, there are two dog-cloning companies in South Korea ramping up for big business. According to a story in today's International Herald Tribune, they've already produced more than 50 cloned dogs between them. Choe Sang-Hun writes that while the idea of replacing a beloved companion is what has captured public interest, the real commercial potential for these labs is in "mass-producing dogs for medical research and as service animals." Let the alarm-bells sound!
Human Yawns "Contagious" for Dogs
Recent research has revealed that dogs can "catch" yawns from humans. Apparently, it's the first demonstration that canines are stimulated to yawn at the sight of a person yawning. Not only does this put them in a heretofore primate-only club, according to the researchers, this is also the first evidence that dogs have the capacity to empathize with humans. Very cool. Now, I'm wondering: Can catch a yawn from my dog?