Monday, January 13, 2014

Man's Inhumanity to Dog

It is said that dogs are man’s best friend, but our relationship with dogs is complicated , and we humans are guilty of committing great cruelty upon our furry friends.

If an extraterrestrial intelligence were to observe the goings-on on our pale blue dot, and witness humans’ relationship with dogs, he/she/it would probably struggle to make any sense of it. It seems odd that humans – the dominant species – should keep so many different types of dogs in complete idleness, since none of these canines have any practical function, other than to be the living play-thing of some person. But is that so bad for the dog? By forming a relationship with Homo Sapiens, not only are dogs pampered,but they can outsource to their  human masters a lot of their survival functions – such as food-finding, shelter, and protection from predators and disease. It means that dogs can afford to have a much simpler central nervous system (in fact, the brains of domestic dogs are one-third smaller than those of their wolf ancestors). Dogs pay the price for this life of luxury: unlike their wolf ancestors, they are not free and they cannot select their own mates; they are totally dependent on humans. But this seems like a small price to pay. According to John Bradshaw in his book “In Defence of Dogs”, a few hundred years ago there were about 5 million wolves in the world; today there are only 150,000 to 300,000. In the meantime, dogs have proliferated. But I now realize that the dog’s life is not always so pleasant.

A while ago, Kate and I were at the local dog park, walking Snowy, a female Irish soft-coated wheaten terrier. We met another dog-walking couple, who were accompanied by a great big beautiful brown dog. This dog looked almost like a lion; it made Snowy look like a puppy, and it was docile and good-natured – a real gentle giant. We were told that it was a Bernese mountain dog. When we got home, we decided to learn more about this beautiful breed. What I learned saddened and horrified me. Bernese mountain dogs have a life expectancy of only 6 to 8 years, and suffer from high rates of cancer and high rates of musculoskeletal ailments.

In fact, there are many genetic diseases associated with various breed of dogs that have increased in recent times. This higher incidence of genetic diseases is the result of inbreeding. The incidence of some diseases, which have been found to be autosomal recessive traits (expressed when both parents carry the recessive genetic mutation), can be increased by inbreeding. Extensive inbreeding results in reduction of genetic diversity. John Bradshaw writes that today’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is probably descended from only 6 individuals; “the breed is prone to not only heart problems, but also to cysts on the spinal cord that cause phantom pains”

Other genetic diseases are the result of selection for particular traits. For example, breeds such as pugs and boxers, which are artificially selected for short muzzles, often suffer from breathing difficulties due to their short snouts. Humans have decided that German shepherds should have shorter hind legs so, as a result, these dogs suffer from arthritis and hip dysplasia. I’ve seen an example of an afflicted German shepherd, and it is heart-breaking to know that it was caused because, on a whim, some people prefer dogs with a particular gait.

If you'd like a shocking picture of what we humans have done to our trusty canine friends, take a look at this 2009 BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”. The scenes of those Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, afflicted with syringomyelia – the result of a cyst on the spinal cord, which causes the brain to grow too big for the skull – are unforgettable.

Dogs have “decided” to trust us to provide them with food, shelter, protection, and love. In return, they provide us with companionship and unconditional love. At the same time, we are ruthlessly cruel to them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My First Blog ... Sort of

This is my first blog. Actually it really isn't my first. I started blogging on this site in 2007, but I got too busy with work and studies and had to abandon it in 2009. I intend to resume my blogging activities in the near future, but I won't be as prolific this time.