Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stylizing Dogs

When some dogs are infants, most of their ear flaps are amputated and the remaining fragments are braced so they will stand at pointy attention. Tails are cut off to mere nubs or to finger-length proportions in certain breeds and vestigial toes are removed from dogs of any breed. These surgical alterations are done in a variety of settings and procedures that may or may not include licensed veterinarians, tissue numbing or pain relief. Most of these ear and tail amputations are actually required for dogs to represent their breed’s standardized appearance. I find it interesting to consider that we could produce such disparate forms as teacup Chihuahuas and huge Great Danes, dwarfed, long-backed Daschunds and flat-faced, bug-eyed Pugs, but we couldn’t figure out how to breed for foreshortened tails or ear flaps. At some point, breed clubs dictated that they just be cut off instead and the Kennel Clubs in America, Canada and England upheld their decisions.

Things began to change in these countries when in 2007, it became illegal to exhibit dogs with cropped ears in England and Wales and dogs with docked tails could not be shown in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Recently in Canada, the Veterinary Medical Association announced its intent to completely ban docking, cropping and dew-claw removal in the country. And in the U.S., the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has promised to get crop-and-dock ban-bills passed in 34 states before this year ends. Cropping and docking bans are not really new; they have existed in Norway and Switzerland for nearly 30 years. But they're new here and some people are vehemently opposed to them.

Are these amputations necessary in some way, or are they unnecessary? Sporting-breed clubs have argued that dogs used in working roles often injure tails, ear flaps and dew claws, therefore, amputation prevents these painful eventualities. In reality, very few dogs of any breed actually fulfill these roles today, those who do can gain exemptions, and medical care is widely available in case of injury. This seems to argue that the amputation of the body parts of millions of infant canines is necessary in order to prevent injuries in a very small percentage of dogs. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that we amputate ears, tails and vestigial toes because we like the way the dog looks with these surgical alterations so they are unnecessary stylizations done for the sake of appearance alone!

If we could all agree that this is so then the amputation practices should stop without laws and bans. Would they? Is answering the necessity question enough? Apparently it isn't and in reality, it isn't even the real issue. The real issue is rights. Do “owners” of dogs (breeder-owners or buyer-owners) have the right to unnecessarily amputate, or cause or promote the amputation of infant canines’ body parts? Do we have the right to surgically alter dogs to fit our sense of beauty and style?

It might be easier to answer this question if the human-dog relationship was as simple as that of an owner or legal possessor and the thing which is owned or possessed, but it isn't. While laws may define them as owned property, dogs are certainly not things. They are conscious; they think. They have emotions and physical sensations and this makes them beings. Few would deny that. If ownership or legal possession of animal beings conferred upon owners the right to maim or injure them unnecessarily and as they wished, should we allow the amputation of drooping eyelids, elongated hound-lips or long and lolling tongues? And what if an owner of a quadruped happened to be partial to three-legged dogs? Where would we draw the line? Whose sense of beauty would we choose to uphold and whose would we deny?

This ownership-rights issue has deep roots and in a recent online debate when a woman argued that "...owners have the prerogative to crop and dock dogs - no questions asked," I saw them. Prerogative! This one word says it all. It explains how we could possibly feel that we have the right to cut off infant canines' ears, tails and toes. It explains how we feel that we have the right to stylize dogs through breeding and inbreeding--creating hundreds of genetic defects in the process--and to cage, confine, isolate and/or keep numbers of them inside our monotonous homes with no species-appropriate stimulation. Prerogative confers power, exclusive rights and privileges by virtue of greater rank, significance or sovereignty. Many of us unconsciously believe (and others consciously) that this describes the human in the human-dog relationship. Our words, thoughts and actions demonstrate that we actually see ourselves in this way – greater in degree, having more authority, importance, significance, rank and value than canine beings, and other animal beings as well. Is this really true?

I believe that this is a vital question for us to ask ourselves. Without its answer, we can only engage in endless debate, spewing forth our opinions, biases and arguments, conflicting and attempting to convince each other of the propriety of our views about rights. This is a question that existed long before that issue and the others to which it is herein related. It's answer can't be found in some study or in a library, myth or doctrine. Only through an experience of beingness in its pure, authentic and utterly whole and natural state can we know if beingness exists in values or degrees. The best example we could possibly find of this inviolate state is in the dog who stands before us. If we empty our heads and just be--just be a being there with the being of the dog--we'd surely find our answer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hidden Dangers in Dog Food

Why do dogs develop osteoscarcomas ten times more often than humans and why does it progress faster in dogs? It may be because dogs are ingesting toxic doses of fluoride. How are they exposed to the chemical? Through fluoridated tap water and through popular dog foods – foods that contain the bones of animals raised on water treated with it and those that ingested foods grown in fluoride-rich soil. It also finds its way into dog foods when fluoridated tap water is used in the manufacturing process. In a recent study, fluoride levels were tested in ten popular dog food brands. Two had no meat or bone meal and the chemical’s levels were below detection limits. The other eight had levels that would be considered unsafe, even toxic, in humans (who have far greater bone mass to absorb ingested fluoride). The highest levels were found in foods marketed for active adult dogs and for large-breed puppies and adult dogs.

Fluoride is one of the elements in the periodic table and it is extremely toxic (rat poison is sodium fluoride). It is found in soil and rocks but most humans and animals are exposed to it through artificially fluoridated tap water. Approximately 70 percent of our communities’ waters are fluoridated and of those, 95 percent use fluorosilicylicic acid. This form of fluoride has been found to cause additional problems, like increased lead uptake (resulting in behavioral and social dysfunction) and depletion of calcium in the body.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fluoride levels greater than 4mg/L are considered dangerous for children and adults. In the study of dog foods, eight of the ten tested had levels that ranged from 7mg/L to 11.2mg/L. Aside from causing bone cancer, high levels of fluoride also causes weakened bones (leading to more fractures), dental fluorosis, developmental damage, neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption and degenerative disease (accelerated aging).

When ingested in food or water, fluoride accumulates in bones, so dog foods that include the bones of animals exposed to the chemical can contain dangerous levels. The following ingredients in dog foods were found to raise fluoride levels to as much as nearly three times higher than the EPA’s safe dose in drinking water and higher than amounts associated with bone cancer in young boys: chicken meal, turkey meal, chicken/poultry by-product meal, lamb meal, beef meal, and bone meal.* If these ingredients are high on the list of ingredients in your dog’s food or if you use bone meal as a calcium supplement, the fluoride concentrations in your dog’s diet could be toxic. Depending upon the source, if you feed raw ground poultry or meat bones, this diet may also be high enough to pose a significant risk of bone cancer and the abovementioned conditions in your dog. And, if the water your dog drinks is also fluoridated, he or she may be ingesting fluoride many times the level considered safe in humans.

Click this link to find out what percentage of the residents of your state receives fluoridated water. Have your well-water tested or contact the water utility where you live to determine if your water contains fluoride. If you find that it does, consider installing a water distillation or filtration system. Then, check the ingredients list on your dog food bag. Does it contain meals or bone meal and are these ingredients among the first five on the list? If so, you may want to consider switching to a food that does not include meat meals or bone meal. If you want to provide a calcium supplement, grind dry organic egg shells to add to the food. Consider feeding a vegetarian kibble and topping it with a variety of fresh cooked meats and meat broth. Your dog will probably prefer this anyway.

*None of the food tested included meat meal or meat by-product meals. These would very likely have the same concentrations of fluoride as specific animal meals. In addition, they may also contain the carcasses of euthanized dogs and cats and concentrations of the chemicals used to kill them. Fish meals may contain the preservative chemical ethoxyquin, a Monsanto product used as a pesticide and as a hardening agent in the manufacture of rubber. It has been linked to cancer, hormonal disruptions, liver failure and birth defects in humans.

Contact me if you would like to receive a list of the references used to compile this article.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trading Possibility for Control

Self-direction is the freedom to choose when, where and how to act. The ability to voluntarily pursue authentic interests and preferences leads to creative and expressive autonomy, independence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Dogs who are free to engage the world and its happenings are spontaneous, innovative, versatile and confident. These dogs do things for the sake of doing them and because they enjoy doing them. They are active and interested when they are in environments that are rich and interesting – natural environments, most particularly. Sadly, few dogs have these freedoms and opportunities. They live inside homes—often where little moves, changes or happens—and when outside the home are usually contained and tethered. And even when they could, they don’t have these freedoms because their people demonstrate compulsive inclinations to control and micro-manage them. We command, direct and instruct dogs, acting as if they can’t or don’t think on their own and as if they can’t be trusted to come up with a worthwhile response. Without realizing it, we try to squeeze the fullness of a dog’s thinking, feeling, imaginative and active possibilities into the narrow dictates of our own concepts, rationalities and desires. When I saw this in myself I was struck with the absurdity of it and the arrogance and stupidity of denying a dog any possibility of self-direction. I resolved to find ways to be more present around dogs so I could avoid engaging in unconscious compulsions.

There is a dog in my class who is demonstrating incredible creativity, decisiveness and immediate, purposeful action. In this particular case, what the dog is doing isn’t working for his person and it really isn’t in his best interest either. His person runs a busy produce market on a busy highway and Gunther goes with her every day. When she is in the market or can’t be supervising him, he is in the office. Rather than closing him up in there, his person installed a gate across the doorway. Within a week, Gunther was leaping over it to gain his freedom. A taller gate was installed but Gunther realized that it was no match for his body weight so he just pushed it down and walked right out. His person got the idea to have a stall-type door made so the top could remain open and Gunther could hear and smell the goings on beyond it. The day that it was installed, she left Gunther in the office feeling good about her choice but when she returned, he was gone. She thought she hadn’t closed the door well enough until the same thing happened the next day. She set up her camera to record the caper and this is what she saw (click here to view a short video clip then click the "back" arrow to return).

This is the very kind of creative ingenuity that enabled dogs to survive and thrive around hazardous human activities for the hundreds of years before we began to contain and control them. This is the dog’s default program. Why would we want to snuff it out and exchange it for the dutiful compliance of a measly few orders—what we call “commands”—we actually take the time to teach a dog? Who would want to trade an animal with such incredible potential for one who won’t or can’t do anything unless and until he is told or allowed? Without opposable digits Gunther may not win this one because the handle is going to be replaced with a knob. But that won’t extinguish door-opening genius wherever handles are present. Gunther has already taught himself how to operate them and reinforced himself for operating them by gaining his freedom. His person is going to have to find ways to encourage and develop his free-thinking creativity. In fact, now that she has shown this to me, their remaining weeks in clicker class are going to get pretty interesting!