Monday, February 28, 2011

SABERTOOTH CATS

When I first started reading about sabertooth cats, I was shocked to learn that there are a whole bunch of different cat-looking animals with long, scary teeth, and they are all called sabertooth cats.  And I didn't know how I could ever find out about them all while doing my usual 15 minutes of in-depth research.  So Mom said I should just tell you about one sabertooth cat, which seemed like a good idea.  So the one I picked to tell you about is named Gertrude.  Hahahaha!  That was a joke!  Even though there really might have been a sabertooth cat named Gertrude.  But the one kind of sabertooth cat I am going to write about is named Smilodon fatalis.

The word smilodon comes from two Greek words that mean "chisel" and "tooth."  And the word fatalis comes from the same place as the word fatal, so we can tell just by the name of this cat that it can kill with its big chisel-teeth.  Luckily, the sabertooth cat has been extinct for about 10,000 years, so we don't have to worry about being attacked by one while we are out walking around the neighborhood.









A lot of people call these animals sabertooth tigers, but this is the wrong name for them because they are not really related to tigers.  All the different kinds of animals that are called "sabertooth" lived between 33.7 million and 9,000 years ago.  The Smilodon group are the ones we hear about most often because they lived in most of the U.S.  The canine teeth on these cats could be as long as 7 inches.  They were so long that they did not even fit inside the cat's mouth when it was closed.



Sabertooth cats were about the size of a lion, except they had a much heavier body, with shorter legs.  They were actually built more like bears than like cats.  Probably they could not run very fast, so the way they hunted was they stalked their prey and then jumped out and knocked it down with their heavy weight.  Sabertooths usually weighed between 600 and 750 pounds.  They had short tails and retractable claws.  Some scientists think that sabertooths might have been spotted, like leopards, because spots would have blended in best with the types of plants that were around in those days.





Nobody knows exactly how sabertooths lived, but they may have been social cats, like lions.  And the reason people think this is because (1) since they couldn't run very fast, it would be easier for them to hunt together to bring down big animals, (2) at the La Brea Tar Pits, a whole bunch of sabertooth fossils were found together, so maybe some of them came there together in a group, and (3) some fossils have broken bones that have healed, which makes scientists think that maybe the cats brought food to sick or injured members of their pack.




Sabertooth cats liked to eat big animals such as sloths, bison, deer, American camels, horses, and mammoths.  They may have got some of their food by scavenging, which would explain why they went to the La Brea Tar Pits and got stuck there while they were trying to eat mammoths and sloths that were stuck in the tar.  When they were hunting live prey, they probably brought the animal down with their weight, and then they used their long teeth to slash into the soft parts of the body so that the animal would bleed to death.




The long saber teeth were not good for crushing throats or spines or for holding onto an animal that was struggling.  If a sabertooth cat tried to do that, he would likely break off his teeth.  And actually, sabertooth cats didn't have very strong muscles for biting, like modern cats do.  Which is why they used their teeth for slashing.  And they had the advantage of being able to open their jaws really wide, like 120 degrees, and a lion can only open his jaw 65 degrees.










We don't know why the sabertooth went extinct, but it might have been because when the ice age ended, the environment changed, and a lot of big animals such as mammoths also went extinct.  The sabertooth was good at hunting big animals, but would not have been so good at hunting small animals because it couldn't run very fast.  I like to think this means that if a sabertooth cat saw a basenji and wanted to eat it, the basenji could outrun the cat.  But like I already said, we don't have to worry about that because the sabertooth cats are all extinct now.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The New One-Dog Policy in Shanghai

Today I want to tell you about a really bad law that just got made in Shanghai, which is the biggest city in all of China.  And by "bad law" I mean that it is unfair and horrible for dogs and their owners, at least in my opinion.  Anyway, the reason this law got made is because the population of Shanghai is really huge, like about 23 million, which is way more people than I would want to count.  And a lot of those people have nice jobs, so they are in the middle class, and they want to have dogs as pets, just like other people in the world do.  So the number of dogs in Shanghai keeps growing.  Right now there are about 140,000 licensed dogs, and maybe as many as 600,000 that don't have licenses.

Anyway, because all these people have dogs, there have been a bunch of problems with barking and dog attacks and poop that didn't get picked up.  But instead of teaching people how they can be better dog owners and solve these problems, the Chinese authorities just decided that every home could only have one dog in it, just like every family can only have one child.



This new policy starts on May 15, so by then people have to get licenses and rabies vaccinations for their dogs.  Also all dogs will have to get annual check-ups.  And if people have more than one unlicensed dog, they have to get rid of the extra ones by finding homes for them or turning them in to shelters.  If you live in the center of the city, you cannot have a dog that is over 3 feet tall, and you are not allowed to own an "attack dog" such as a Tibetan Mastiff or an English Bulldog.



People who already have two or more licensed dogs will be allowed to keep those dogs, and if anyone's dog has a litter of puppies, the puppies have to be taken to an approved adoption agency when they are three months old.  If you don't pick up after your dog, you will have to pay a $30 fine.  If your dog attacks humans twice or bites two humans in the same attack, the police will take your dog away from you.  And if you don't follow any of the other rules about owning a dog, you will have to pay a fine of $150, and your dog will be taken away.

One good thing is that you can get a dog license at half the cost if your dog is spayed or neutered.  But the licenses will probably cost $150 after the new laws start.  This seems like a lot to pay for a dog license, but it's better than what people have to pay now, which is $300.  Which may be why a lot of people don't license their dogs.

The Chinese people weren't always allowed to have dogs as pets.  Back when Mao Zedong was in charge, people who owned dogs were thought of as being capitalists, which was a very bad thing.  But now the communists are not so strict, and they let people have businesses and make money and stuff like that.  And they can also have dogs.  So in all of China, there may be 100 million pet dogs.  Some cities have already made a one-dog rule, but Shanghai is the biggest city to do this.

Mom has been to Shanghai twice, and she says it is a very big, very crowded city.  The people live in really tall apartment buildings with little balconies where they hang their clothes out on the line to dry.  There is so much smog that you cannot see the sun during a lot of the year.  So anyway, Mom says that she can understand why it would be a huge mess if lots of people have dogs, especially if people don't pick up poop, and if the dogs are biting other people.  And I guess, if you look at it that way, it sort of makes sense to have some rules.  But if people have small dogs, it seems like they could have two of them in an apartment, and that wouldn't be a problem, and the dogs wouldn't get so lonely while their people were away at work.

Also Mom and I wonder if there will be enough homes for all the dogs and puppies that people have to give up if they follow the rules.  Because if there aren't enough homes, then what will happen to those dogs?  Well, actually, I think we can figure that out, but I don't want to think about it.

I'm just glad we don't have a one-dog policy in Kansas City, because if we did, Mom would have to find new homes for my brothers, because I'm sure that I'm the one dog Mom would most want to keep!

Friday, February 25, 2011

ANGORA RABBITS

Since it is the Year of the Rabbit, I thought I would tell you about some special kinds of rabbits, just like I told you about special kinds of tigers during the Year of the Tiger.  So today's blog is about Angora Rabbits.

These rabbits have lots and lots of hair, and it is very soft and grows really long, so you can shear the rabbits, kind of like you would shear a sheep.  Then you can use their wool to spin yarn and knit something nice to wear.  Angora rabbit wool is very light in weight, and it is eight times warmer than sheep wool.  This is why it makes good sweaters for people who like sweaters.  But I think if I had a doggy sweater made of Angora wool, I would probably chew it up because I don't like sweaters.


Anyway, Angora rabbits come from Ankara, which is in Turkey, and which used to be called Angora.  Angora goats and Angora cats come from the same place.  In the middle of the 18th century, French royalty started keeping Angora rabbits as pets.  Then by the end of that century, other people in Europe had also figured out that these rabbits made good pets.  In the early part of the 20th century, Angora rabbits first came to the United States, and now lots of people here also have them.



Angora rabbits are usually very calm and easy to handle, which is a good thing, because they have to be groomed a lot.  If you don't keep their fur combed out, it gets matted, which is painful for the rabbit.  Also the rabbits groom themselves just like cats do, and they swallow the loose hair.  When cats do this, they get a hairball, which they can usually cough up.  But rabbits can't cough up the hair they swallow, so it gets stuck inside them, and this is called wool block.

If rabbits get wool block, they will stop eating because they already feel full, and then they can starve to death.  So to keep this from happening, rabbits need to eat lots of fiber, like for instance, hay.  Or special rabbit food that has a lot of fiber in it.  Also they need to drink lots of water to help keep everything moving along.

Some Angora rabbits are so furry that you can hardly even tell they are rabbits.  They remind me of those Pekingese dogs at the dog shows, where all you can see is a tiny bit of their face, and the rest of them is just hair.  Angora rabbits are very social bunnies, and they like being with other rabbits and with people.  They also like playing with toys, like for example a pine cone or a plastic ball or a stuffed sock.  They have lots of personality, and they are just friendly and fun to have around, so that's why people like to have them as pets.


There are four types of Angora rabbits that are recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), and these types are:  English, French, Giant, and Satin.

The English Angora is the smallest breed, and it usually weighs between 4.5 and 7.5 pounds.  This rabbit has very thick wool, and it needs to be groomed twice a week.  It is the only type of Angora that has fur on its ears and face, and even covering its eyes.  This picture and also the two rabbit pictures before this one are all English Angoras.  And maybe the one that has been sheared is the same type, but I don't know for sure.



French Angoras are bigger, and weigh between 7.5 and 10 pounds.  They have a layer of guard hairs with a wool undercoat, so they need less grooming that other Angora breeds.  The French Angora has short hair on its face and front feet, with only a little bit of tufting on the hind legs.

The Giant Angora is a breed that was created especially to produce lots of wool for commercial use.  It is 10 pounds or larger in weight.  The coat of this rabbit has three types of wool:  soft under wool, awn fluff, and awn hair.  "Awn" wool is a type of wool that only exists on the Giant and the German Angora breeds.  Giant Angoras make lots more wool than the English, French, or Satin Angoras.  They have to be shorn at least every 90 days.



The Satin Angora is pretty new as a breed.  They've been recognized by the ARBA for about 15 years.  Their average weight is 8.5 pounds, and they got their name because their wool is very soft and shiny, like satin.  Also their wool is stronger for spinning than the wool of other types of Angora rabbits.




There are shows for Angora rabbits, just like there are for dogs.  Except that I don't think the rabbits have to run around a ring, the way dogs do.  Mostly I guess they just sit there and look really pretty and rabbit-like for the judge.  But I've never been to a rabbit show, so I could be wrong about this.




Anyway, I think it would be fun to have some pet rabbits here at our house, but Mom says that is not a good idea because of all the dogs here who might want to eat the rabbits.  Well, duh!  Of course, we'd want to eat the rabbits!  Why else would we have them around?  But if we were going to have pet rabbits, I think it might be better to get a kind that doesn't have as much hair as Angoras have, because who wants to bite into a rabbit and just get a mouthful of hair?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fairy Penguins and Maremma Sheepdogs

Fairy Penguins are the very smallest kind of penguin, and also they are blue, which makes them very cute, like the fairies you read about in fairy tales.  Another name for these birds is Little Penguins.  And you can also call them Little Blue Penguins or just Blue Penguins.

These little birds live on the southern coasts of New Zealand and Australia, and they are the only type of penguin that breeds in Australia.  Fairy Penguins are 12 or 13 inches tall, and they weigh about 2 pounds.  They like to eat fish, squid, krill, and small crustaceans.  During the day, the Little Penguins go out fishing in the ocean, and then after it gets dark, they go up on the shore to their burrows.  The next morning, they go back out to sea before the sun comes up.

The reason the Little Penguins don't spend a lot of time on land in the daytime is because it's safer for them at night, when predators can't see them.  Foxes especially like to eat Fairy Penguins, and so do wild dogs, or even pet dogs who go out roaming around.  In some areas, there aren't many penguins left because a bunch of them got eaten.  But in general, the Little Penguin is not in danger of becoming extinct.






A lot of tourists like to go to Australia to watch the penguins parade down to the sea and back again, and if too many penguins get eaten, it makes the tourists not want to go there anymore.  So in some places where foxes are eating a lot of Blue Penguins, snipers go out with rifles and night-vision glasses to shoot the foxes.  But in a place called Warrnambool, Victoria, people found a different way to solve the fox problem.  And what they did was they brought in Maremma sheepdogs to guard the penguins.




In case you were wondering where Warrnambool is, or even which part of Australia the state of Victoria is in, I found a nice map for you to look at.  When the tide is low on the coast there, foxes can cross over to what is called the Middle Island, and it is kind of like a penguin cafeteria for them there.  But now some Maremma sheepdogs stay on the island and guard the penguins, which means that the foxes can't eat as many penguins, and there are starting to be more of them again.  And that's a good thing.

Maremma sheepdogs have been used for many hundreds of years in central Italy to guard sheep from wolves.  When the puppies are very young, they are put with the lambs so that they learn to bond with them.  That way, when they grow up, they want to protect sheep and not eat them.  Maremmas can also be used to guard goats and even cattle.

The Maremma sheepdog breed dates way back, like to Roman times or even before.  These sheepdogs look kind of like some other breeds such as Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, or the Akbash Dog of Turkey.  They usually weigh between 65 and 110 pounds.  Most of them are solid white, but colors such as yellow, cream, and lemon/brown spots are getting to be more popular.


In the U.S. and Canada, Maremma sheepdogs are used to guard flocks and herds, just like they are in Italy.  But there is starting to be more interest in using them to protect other kinds of animals, especially since they have been so good at keeping the foxes from eating the Fairy Penguins.  The best thing about using a guard dog, like the Maremma, is that it can scare off the predator animals without hurting them.  And this is good because many predators are protected by law so you are not supposed to shoot them.

Having dogs like Maremmas around makes ranchers happy because their cattle don't get killed by wolves.  And it makes environmentalists happy because the wolves don't get killed by the ranchers.  And making everybody happy is what dogs like to be good at!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More FDR First Dogs

Yesterday I told you about Fala, who was President Roosevelt's special, most favorite dog, but Fala wasn't the only dog who lived in the White House when Mr. Roosevelt was president.  During the 12 years while he was in office, the family had 11 First Dogs.  And this seemed to be on account of the fact that all the Roosevelts liked dogs, which I think is a very good thing in a First Family.

The Roosevelt family was really big.
There are two dogs in this photo.  I think
they are both Scotties.
Elliott Roosevelt had a bull mastiff named Blaze.  One day when he got locked in the library, Blaze chewed up all the towels.  I don't know why there were towels in a library.  I am only telling you what I read about this dog.  When Elliott moved out to be on his own, he took Blaze with him.

The Roosevelts' daughter, Anna, who was married, had two red setters named Jack and Jill.  But then when she was getting a divorce, she sent her dogs to the White House to live with her parents.  And later on, after she got married again, she ended up sending her retriever, Ensign, to the White House, too.  Ensign was a good retriever, and was famous for retrieving every single thing that could possibly be retrieved.

Sistie and Buzzie, two of the Roosevelts' grandchildren, brought their bulldog, Pal to the White House when they were staying there.  But Pal got really stressed out because of all the other dogs around, and he threw himself into an empty fountain.  Maybe he was trying to kill himself, but I guess it didn't work.

A reporter set this this up to take a picture
of Winks eating a plate of eggs and bacon.


Winks was a Llewellin setter who came from Warm Springs, Georgia, where the president had his spa.  One morning at the White House, when there was a breakfast of eggs and bacon set out for 18 people, Winks got there first and gobbled up the food off of all 18 plates.  President Roosevelt said that the only reason Winks didn't also drink the coffee was because it hadn't been poured yet.


Sadly, Winks, who was always kind of wild and crazy, ran right into a White House fence one day and broke his neck.  He was buried with full honors in the Rosedale Dog Cemetery in Maryland.


Mrs. Roosevelt had a Scottish terrier named Meggie who liked to chase the White House maids.  And one time she bit a reporter named Bess Furman right on the nose.

Meggie and Major
Major, who was President Roosevelt's German Shepherd, also chased the maids, and they had to use brooms and mops to keep him away from them.  Then one time Major ripped the trousers of the British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald.  This was right when the Germans were getting nasty and aggressive and were about to attack Britain.  So it wasn't good that a German type of dog was biting the pants leg of an important British official.



And then another time Major bit someone's hand when the person reached through the fence to pet him, which was a dumb thing for that person to do, but people don't expect to get bitten by one of the First Dogs.  So anyway, that's why Major had to go live at Hyde Park after that.

But President Roosevelt also had a Great Dane named President who made up for Major's bad behavior by greeting the King and Queen of England in a very nice, tail-wagging way when they came for a visit.

Another dog that went away to live at Hyde Park was Tiny Tim, who was a big, klutzy sheepdog.  He didn't bite anybody, but the president decided there were too many dogs with bad manners in the White House, so that's why he sent most of them away.

And just when he didn't really have any dogs around to worry about anymore, that's when the president's cousin gave him Fala.  And like I told you yesterday, Fala turned out to be the most famous First Dog of all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

President Franklin Roosevelt and Fala

Today is President's Day, which means that we won't get any mail.  But we weren't expecting anything special anyway, so we don't really care.  The important thing about President's Day is that it's a good chance for me to tell you about another First Dog, and the one I'm going to tell you about was probably the most famous First Dog of all.  His name was Fala, and he was a Scottish terrier that belonged to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Mr. Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in a town called Hyde Park, New York.  His family was rich, so he got to do all kinds of stuff that rich kids do, including go to Harvard.  After he finished college in 1904, he started Columbia Law School, but in 1907 he passed the state bar exam, so he dropped out of law school.

In 1902, Mr. Roosevelt met his future wife, Eleanor, whose last name was also Roosevelt.  She was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, and she was a 5th cousin, once removed, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  They got married on March 17, 1905, and they had six children.



Mr. Roosevelt got polio in August of 1921, and that made it so he couldn't walk.  After that, he had to use a wheelchair to get around, but he didn't like people to know that he was disabled, so he mostly didn't let anyone take his picture in his wheelchair.

In 1929, Mr. Roosevelt got elected Governor of New York, and then in 1932, he got elected President of the United States.  At that time, the Great Depression was going on, and lots of people were poor, but President Roosevelt was good at being cheerful and making everyone feel better.  Plus he got a lot of laws passed to help make jobs for people.

Okay, so now I will tell you about Fala, the Scottish terrier.  He was born on April 7, 1940, and he was a gift to Mr. Roosevelt from his cousin, Margaret Suckley.  The president had had dogs before, but he had a very special bond with Fala.  At first, Fala's name was Big Boy, but then President Roosevelt named him Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, after John Murray of Falahill, who was a famous Scottish ancestor.  But then, because that name was really long, it got shortened to just "Fala."


Everyone in the White House kitchen loved Fala, and they all gave him yummy food to eat.  But then Fala got sick from eating all the food, and he had to go to the pet hospital.  After that, his dad said that nobody else was allowed to feed him.  So even if one of the cooks made Fala's supper, he couldn't feed it to Fala because the president wanted to do it himself.  Sometimes he even made important visitors wait for their suppers until Fala had been fed.

President Roosevelt taught Fala to do all sorts of tricks, such as rolling over and offering a paw for important visitors to shake.  And Fala could also stand on his hind legs when The Star-Spangled Banner was played.


Fala got to go on all sorts of trips with President Roosevelt.  Sometimes he went on the president's plane, which was called Sacred Cow, and other times he went on the president's train, the Ferdinand Magellan. And if the president went somewhere on a ship, Fala got to go there, too.

One time, after a trip to the Aleutian Islands, there were rumors that Fala got left behind by mistake, and that the president sent a big ship back to get him.  The Republicans made a big deal out of this, and the president got mad.  So he gave what is called the "Fala Speech," and some of what he said in this speech was this:  You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him--at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars--his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself--such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president longer than anybody else ever was.  He served three terms, and then he was elected to a fourth term, which he was just starting when he died.  This was back in the days before terms limits, so now it is against the law for anybody to be president more than two terms.

Anyway, when President Roosevelt was going to get sworn in for the third time, Fala tried to get in the car with him, but a Secret Service man took him back to the White House.  Fala spent several days sulking there, and then he ran away.  A stranger found him in front of the Capitol Theater and took him back to the president.

Fala was a big help in raising money to help the British during the war.  Any pet owner could donate 50 cents to buy a "Barkers for Britain" tag.  This money went to the Bundles for Britain group and was used to buy clothes and blankets and other things that the British needed after they got bombed by the Nazis.  There were more than 30,000 tags given out during the 7 months of the project, plus 1,000 tags in Australia.  Fala was named the "Barkers" president, and he had tag number 1.

It seemed like Fala was so popular that everybody in America knew who he was.  He had his picture taken a lot, and he got lots of fan mail.  He even got so much mail that he had to have his own secretary to help him answer it all.  The soldiers in Europe during the war sometimes would ask "What is the name of the president's dog?" in order to find out if somebody was an American or if they were a German enemy who did not know about Fala.

Sometimes President Roosevelt went to a place in Georgia called Warm Springs.  He had made a spa  there where people who were disabled could come and enjoy the warm water.  Usually when he went to Warm Springs, he took Fala along.  On March 29, 1945, the president went there, and on April 12, he suddenly got a terrible headache.  It turned out that he was having a stroke, and he died later that same day.


Fala rode with Mrs. Roosevelt in the funeral procession, and then he went to live with her at Val-Kill, which was her home in the Hyde Park area.  Fala never quite got used to his dad's being gone, and sometimes he would lie by the door like he was watching for him to come in.


Val-Kill was in the country, so there was lots of land to run around on.  Mrs. Roosevelt brought Fala's grandson, Tamas McFala, to Val-Kill so that Fala would have another dog to play with.  The two of them would run off together and come back later all covered with burrs and mud.  Then they would take nice, long naps.  Sometimes Fala would sleep on his back with his feet in the air.


On April 5, 1952, Fala died.  He was buried close to President and Mrs. Roosevelt's grave.  When a bronze monument was made of President Roosevelt in Washington. D.C., Fala was also included.  He is the only presidential pet to get to be part of a monument.  And I think this makes him pretty darned special.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON MY NEW HOME, by Nicholas


I've been living here for over a month now, which is long enough to sort of get a feel for the place.  Of course, it's not long enough to make me really believe Mom when she says I will never ever have to move to another home, because it seems like I have moved around a lot in the last year or so.

Anyway, one big plus about this place is that there are lots of squirrels.  I'd say that squirrel-hunting is my favorite thing to do in life -- well, that and sleeping -- so it's good to have lots of squirrels around.  In the back yard here, there is a huge, tall oak tree, and the squirrels like to build nests up there.  So then, of course, they are always having to cross the yard so they can run up the tree to their nests.  Well, unless they jump over to the oak tree from the branch of one of the neighbors' trees.


It hardly seems fair that squirrels can climb trees, and I can't.  If they would just stay on the ground, we could have an equal competition, and I am sure I could outrun them.  Or if they would just go up very short trees, then I would be able to reach and grab them, because I am a tall dog.  

One thing I like to do is just stay out in the yard for a long time, watching and listening for squirrels.  They're all around, you know.  Sometimes they run along the tops of the fences.  And sometimes I can hear them digging up acorns in the yard nextdoor.  Mom gets upset with me if I stay out squirrel-hunting for too long.  I don't know why she is so uptight about this.  It's really annoying.


I stayed out 45 minutes one morning when it was 9 degrees.  Mom was worried that I would get frostbite, but I didn't.  I didn't even notice that my feet were cold, because who can think about stuff like cold feet when there are squirrels around?  Another time I stayed out for two hours, but it was lots warmer then.  It was in the low 30s, and my feet hardly got cold at all.

Now that the weather is nicer, and all the snow melted, Mom has been taking us dogs out walking.  I get to go on the first walk because I'm the most impatient of all, and Mom could hardly make me stay in the house while she was taking Barry and Mel out to walk.  So she figured out that it was just easier to let me go first.


Mom said she likes to take me for a walk because when she walks me, she can actually get some exercise.  This is because I don't stop to pee on every tree and bush and fire hydrant, like Mel and Barry do.  I spend most of my time with my head up, trotting along, so I can see any squirrels that might be around.  And usually there are quite a few of them to see.  I'd like to chase them, but Mom keeps me on a leash, so I can't.  I find this really frustrating, but Mom says it's for my own good, so I won't run off and get hit by a car.  As if I'd be dumb enough to just run across a road without stopping to look both ways while I was chasing a squirrel!  But Mom says greyhounds have been known to do this before, and I can't convince her that she is just being overly cautious.

If it weren't for the leash, though, I'm sure I could catch some of those squirrels before they go up a tree.  Oh, but guess what we saw yesterday when we were walking -- a possum!  Yep, there it was, strolling boldly along the sidewalk in broad daylight.  I just stopped and watched because I haven't seen all that many possums before.  Mom said they usually only come out at night, so she thought maybe we shouldn't get to close to it, in case something was wrong with it, like maybe it had rabies or something.  I'm not worried about that because I've had my rabies vaccination, but Mom hasn't had one.  So we just went home without chasing the possum, even though I know I could have caught it because it was lots slower than a squirrel.


Then yesterday afternoon I discovered a really wonderful new thing I can do in the back yard.  I can dig holes!  I found a nice spot in a corner by the shed, and I just had the best time digging.  But then Mom saw me, and she made me stop.  She said I couldn't dig there because that's where the day lilies are sleeping, and it's too early to wake them up.  Heck, I thought I was helping by getting the yucky old leaves and dirt off the flowers.  But apparently Mom didn't see it that way.

Darn!  Maybe this new home isn't going to be as interesting as I thought it was.  I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dogs Who Sniff Cancer

Remember how I told you that dogs are way, way better at smelling things than people are?  Well, even though everybody knows this is true, nobody knows exactly how much better dogs can smell stuff than humans can.  One of my in-depth research sources said that a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 times better than a person's, and another in-depth source said it is 100,000 times better!  So since there is a huge gap between these two numbers, I think this means that people just really can't understand at all what it's like to be a dog and to smell so many interesting things all the time.

But anyway, my point is that because dogs can smell so well, they can do all sorts of important work for people if they are just trained to know what people want them to do.  So for instance, dogs can sniff out drugs and bombs and dead people and bedbugs, like I've already told you in some of my other blogs.



And now another thing dogs are sniffing out is cancer.  This is actually something they have been doing for several years already, but new research with dogs sniffing cancer is still going on every day.  Recently, some scientists in Japan trained an 8-year-old black lab named Marine to find colon cancer by smelling a person's breath.  Marine was taught to do this by sniffing some tubes that people had breathed into, and when Marine sniffed the one from the person who had cancer, she was rewarded with a tennis ball, which is something she really loves to play with.  So it didn't take long for her to catch on and start "alerting" every time she smelled the breath sample from a person with colon cancer.

Marine was so good at this that she got the right answer 95 percent of the time with the breath samples, and when she sniffed poop samples, she was right 98 percent of the time.  In the past, other dogs have been taught to identify cancer of the skin, bladder, lung, breast, and ovaries.  And mostly they just do this by sniffing breath samples or urine samples or skin lesions.

So how can dogs smell cancer?  Well, it turns out that cancer makes a certain sort of chemical smell, and this smell might be caused by volatile organic compounds, whatever those are.  Anyway, somehow the cancer makes some sort of chemical waste product stuff which is different from what the body usually makes, and that chemical stuff goes into the blood, and then it gets into the breath, and dogs can smell it there.

I thought that maybe this discovery about how good dogs are at sniffing out cancer would mean that lots of dogs could get jobs in doctors' offices, which would help the canine unemployment situation.  And also that dogs would have a bunch of money to buy yummy dog food and treats with.  But it turns out that the scientists don't want to pay what it would cost to train that many dogs to have cancer-sniffing jobs.  Instead, they want to build some kind of machine that can sniff cancer just like a dog can.  Well, I say good luck with that!

At least the scientists admit that it will be hard to make a machine that's as good a sniffer as a dog.  And this is because, like I told you, nobody really knows how cancer makes those sniffable chemicals.  But if scientists figure out how to make a machine like this, it would be a good way to help people find out early on if they have cancer, when they can probably be cured.  And it would be lots more pleasant to just breathe into a machine than to have somebody cut you open to find out if you have cancer, so that would be another good thing.  Still, if you ask me, people would be much happier to have a dog in the doctor's office to pet and hug, rather than some cold, boring machine.