Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Made for Each Other, by Meg Daley Olmert

Why do we love our pets so much? And why do they love us? These are the central questions posed by Meg Daley Olmert's  2009 book about the biology of the human-animal bond.

Her inquiry follows the research done on the role of the hormone oxytocin in animal behavior. If you're of a certain age, you probably think of oxytocin as the hormone that initiates labor, delivery and lactation in humans. But over recent years, research has focused on the much broader role that oxytocin plays across all mammal behavior, and especially in that of domesticated animals.

As it turns out, according to Olmert, oxytocin suppresses the fight or flight response, one of the most powerful motivators in the animal kingdom; it also stimulates trusting, close, and nurturing behavior and lowers stress hormones, heart rate and blood pressure. In fact, Olmert and others make the argument that oxytocin may have been a major factor in the domestication of animals.

Olmert brings a new perspective to several of the major themes in the behavior of domesticated animals, covering well known stories such as Clever Hans, the "trick" horse, Rico, the brilliant German Border Collie and the taming of the Russian silver fox and points to what she thinks is the role of oxytocin in  these events. 

The central theme of the book is the relationship between pet dogs and humans. It's now possible to measure the degree of oxytocin produced by interacting with our pets and, as you might expect, petting a dog produces high levels of oxytocin in both the human and the dog. The best anti-stress results are produced at forty strokes a minute, the same rate we naturally use to stroke our pets.

One study showed that the biggest factor in who survived a heart attack was not family or friendship, but whether a patient had a pet. Interestingly, another study showed that when humans are performing a stress test, having a friend or spouse nearby had no effect on reducing heart and blood pressure, but the presence of their dogs kept them significantly calmer.  Simply owning a cat produced a 30% reduction in the incidence of heart attack. It is often said that during tough times people prefer the comfort of a pet even to their closest human kin.

Is anyone surprised that stroking a pet produces a feeling of well-being? Well, no. But it is interesting to see this profound effect has shaped our shared history with animals and to speculate on how we might leverage the effects of oxytocin to improve our future. It certainly helps to illuminate why so many of us have chosen to work with animals and why we derive such pleasure from it. Grooming produces oxytocin in both the groomer and the groomee!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanksgiving Idea: Low Fat Carrot Dog Treats

If you're worried about your pooch's waistline, and for many of our furry friends you should be, consider making these low fat treats for the holiday:

1 medium banana
1 c shredded carrots (can buy pre-shredded for convenience)
1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
1/8 c water (or more as needed)
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour (plus extra for rolling out cookies)
1 c rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray or a light coat of oil.

Mash banana and mix in shredded carrots (give carrots a rough chop to make the pieces a little smaller.) Add water and applesauce and stir. Add flour and oats and combine thoroughly. Using hands, knead into a dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/2" thickness. Cut into 3" shapes using a knife, cookie cutters or the rim of a glass. Put the treats onto the oiled baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. If your dog prefers a crunchier treat, turn off the oven after baking and let the treats cool in the oven overnight.

This recipe makes 24 treats which will keep for 3 weeks in the fridge or 6 months frozen.

Thank you Country Gardens, Hyannis for this great recipe!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

2 Million Dogs, 2 Miles

A satisfying a day was had by all the 200 or so dogs that strolled through Plymouth under brilliant fall sun and skies today in order to raise funds for the fight against canine cancer. What more does a dog want than the simple joy of taking a walk? 101 dogs preregistered online but scores more lined up to take part in the walk.

It was a parade of breeds with some unusual attendees among the throngs of Golden Retrievers; one woman brought her 18 year old cat, Felicia, perched on her shoulder, complete with pink polka dotted sweater and matching leash. All together we saw four Dogues de Bordeaux, not a dog you see every day in Southeast Mass. 

We gave out coupons, dog treats and brushing guides and had a good time chatting with other visitors, vendors and sponsors. In fact, we saw the folks from the Howl-a-Day Inn there. Three interesting non-profits attended: 

"I can follow the scent of a criminal for up to 10 days but all he needs is a split second to kill me" is what you'll see on the home page of this organization's web site. They primarily raise money to furnish active police dogs with bullet-proof vests, but they also provide other essential equipment such as kennels, heat alarms and even the purchase of dogs themselves. Check out their online store for gift ideas.

Great photos and stories on this group's web site. FairyDogParents helps prevent dogs from being surrendered to shelters due to financial hardship. They've sponsored more than 100 dogs since March of 2009 and have pledged to help 175 more by the end of 2012.

Helping Hands for the Plymouth Animal Shelter: These kind folks raise money for veterinary, wellness care and spaying /neutering for animals lodged at the Plymouth Animal Shelter to supplement the town budget. All monies raised, donated or collected go toward the well being of the animals.

 We'll certainly support the Puppy Up! Walk again next year.