Happy winter Solstice! Merry almost Christmas! I almost can’t believe I’m typing that. Is Christmas really only four days away? I know it’s super cliche to talk about how quickly time passes but truly, this season has gone by in a blink. It’s been the busiest season of work for me ever (so grateful for this!), we just returned from our trip to Mexico for Robbie’s work Sunday night, we had two school holiday parties yesterday, Essley’s winter dance recital is tonight and her birthday party is Sunday, then family arrives to stay with us, and the following day is Christmas Eve! This is the first year both of my kids are old enough to really get Christmas, and the excitement level is through the roof! The day after Christmas, Robbie leaves town for work, I join him on the 30th in Atlanta, and we fly back together on January 1st (my birthday), which is quickly followed by Emmett’s birthday, then a long (boooo!) winter tour for him with the band.
Honestly, I love being busy, and get sad when things slow down. But I also want to take a breath and enjoy the last few days of the season before it’s gone. So I will be taking my annual break from the blog to spend time with my family and catch up on non-work things, starting today. I’ll likely still be somewhat active on Instagram, but we won’t be back with any new posts here on the blog until after the New Year.
However you celebrate (or don’t celebrate!), I wish you the happiest of holidays and a New Year full of joy, love, and peace.
Embracing a plant-based lifestyle may start with what’s on your plate, but whether you’re vegan for health, humane, or environmental reasons, for lots of people it’s not just a diet, but a way of life. Being vegan can affect nearly every purchasing decision, so it’s only natural to think about how it affects pets’ diets.
What about vegan cat food? Unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning there are nutrients cats need that they cannot get from a vegetarian diet. So, from a health standpoint, real, whole meat cat food delivers the nutrients they need. But what about pet parents who are concerned about the treatment of our life-giving animals and the environmental impact of pet food? In the U.S., dogs’ and cats’ diets are responsible for “25-30% of animal production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides,” according to a 2017 study.
That’s why Halo commits to ethical and sustainable agricultural practices. Our promise of OrigiNative®sourcing means we work with farmers who treat animals with respect and help maintain a regenerative ecosystem by using original animal husbandry and farming practices and rearing animals in their native environments. To ensure the OrigiNative® philosophy is followed, Halo’s meat proteins are GAP (Global Animal Partnership®) certified humane, and our fish is MSC (Marine Stewardship Council®) certified sustainably caught. Plus, all of the fruits and vegetables Halo uses are non-GMO.
Living with a cat has so many benefits. Of course we enjoy the company of these always-adorable, sometimes-cuddly, often-independent creatures. And of course, living with a cat has its challenges, too, challenges that require cat owners to have a certain type of strength.
The extent of cats’ curiosity, spontaneity, dominance, and skittishness can keep us pretty busy. It also takes some serious devotion and patience to live with a family member who is bent on terrorizing rolls of toilet paper, swatting objects off shelves, dueling with dogs, and, this time of year, eviscerating Christmas trees.
There’s also research that shows self-identified cat people tend to be pretty open, which researchers tie to intellectual curiosity and artistic creativity. And if you’ve had to outsmart a cat at Christmas-time, you know what we’re talking about.
But no matter how ornery our cats are, they still purr themselves back into our hearts when they’re done. And like the good pet parents we are, we’re there to love and treat them.
We don’t really think of antlers as being practical weapons. No species of deer that has them has them year round, and in only one species, caribou/reindeer, do both sexes have antlers.
We tend to think of antlers as being used to attract the opposite sex and for ritualized combat between conspecifics, usually just competing males during the rut in all species but caribou/reindeer. In that species, the females retain antlers well into the winter, which they use fight for preferential feeding areas, a great asset in feeding the calves they carry through the long northern winters.
But we don’t normally think of them as weapons to be used against predators. After all, predators are a problem that plagues deer all year, not just during the rut, and if they were widely used in fighting off predators, one would think they would evolve to hold onto them permanently or at least for longer periods of the year.
Well, a recent paper in the journal Nature examined how these factors work with regard to elk living in Yellowstone, where wolf predation is a significant factor in elk survival.
The authors found that bull elk that lose their antlers relatively early tend to be in better physical condition than those that retain them, and those that lose their antlers early tend to grow larger antlers than those that retain them, simply because they have more time to grow their new antlers in the coming year.
The authors found that there is a massive trade-off for how long elk hold onto their antlers. Those bull elk that lose their antlers are preferentially targeted by wolves. Yes, even though they are in better physical condition than those that retain them, the wolves go for elk that lack antlers as weapons.
Predation from wolves could be driving elk in Yellowstone to hold onto their antlers longer, and it could explain why elk in general hold onto their antlers long after their breeding season.
This study has some interesting implications, because wolves could indirectly be selecting for smaller antler size in elk, simply because the elk that lose their antlers sooner tend to have bigger racks in the following year. Further, because the elk hold onto their antlers longer when they are in poorer physical condition, the wolves could be selecting for weaker elk that are much poorer foragers than they might otherwise be.
These questions were not addressed in the paper, but I’m sure the questions did arise as the researchers looked at their data. More work is going to have to be done, but it is clear that wolf predation is a lot more complex in how it selects for fitness in the elk population than we might have assumed.
[W]ithin the Old World clade, wolf and dog represent sister taxa. Therefore, suggestions that the dog or dingo are a separate species (Canis familiaris) (e.g., Crowther et al. 2014) would cause gray wolves to be a polyphetic taxon; and consequently, our results support dogs as a divergent subspecies of the wolf. This result has societal significance as legislation in some countries and regional governments consider wolves and dogs as distinct species restricting the possession, interbreeding, or the use of vaccines and medications in wolves or dog–wolf hybrids if they have only been approved for use in dogs. In this sense, analysis of evolutionary history informs law and veterinary practice, as dog lineages are nearly as distinct from one another as wolves are from dogs, and the justification for treating dogs and wolves differently is questionable.
The monophyly of the species is one thing that I think everyone should agree is worth preserving in any taxonomic system, but the genomes clearly show that if we create a special species for the dog or the dingo, we wreck the monophyly of Canis lupus.
I would also contend, perhaps a bit more controversially, that in light of a similar study of North American wolf-like canids’ genomes, that the coyote is also part of Canis lupus. This study found that gray wolves and coyotes have exchanged genes across North America and that gray wolves and coyotes last shared a common ancestor only around 50,000 years ago. That ancestor was probably an ancient Eurasian gray wolf that came into North America and evolved for a more generalist, jackal-like niche in the mid-latitudes of North America.
When someone claims that dogs are not wolves, they can only mean it in the same way that pugs are not Siberian huskies or that Great Danes are not dingoes. They are not wild Canis lupus, but they clearly are within that species, if we wish to keep the species monophyletic.
The reason why people want to claim a special species for the dog is because of Raymond Coppinger’s ideas still hold a lot of sway with people who wish to be learned about dogs. It’s not that everything that Coppinger said was wrong. It is what he was wrong about seems to be all that people know.
Coppinger argued that domestic dogs were obligate scavengers and thus must be placed as their own ecological species. An ecological species is the best argument for Canis familiaris. But it has limits for our understanding of evolution, and it can be turned into an absurd concept. For example, there are two sharp-tailed grouse subspecies that live in slightly different but adjacent habitat but do not readily interbreed. If we were to adhere to the same sort of species concept, then these two subspecies would have to be distinct species, even if it busted up the entire monophyly of the sharp-tailed grouse species.
Because the ecological species concept is muddled when comparing wolves to dogs and keeping an arbitrary Canis familiaris species destroys the monophyly of Canis lupus, it would make more sense to drop Canis familiaris entirely.
One could raise dogs to Canis lupus familiaris, but Raymond Pierotti and Brandy Fogg have argued in their book, called The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved, that there is no set of behavioral, physical, or physiological traits that define all dogs as a taxonomic entity. They instead argue that we should just call them “domestic Canis lupus,” in which they also group the dingo, which is “feral domestic Canis lupus.“
I remain agnostic about what we should call dogs, but Pierotti and Fogg’s quibbles are difficult to ignore. Perhaps we could have the subspecies for the dog, but there must be some acknowledgement that all we are doing is defining a domestic and feral population of a species.
If this blog post looks familiar, I wrote almost this exact same post in March, but I sometimes feel that I have to explain the very real scientific reasons why we don’t say that dogs are a unique species. It is not anti-science to do so, despite what Facebook dog experts tell you. If we want a monophyletic Canis lupus, then dogs have to be part of it.
The mere act of owning a pet means we have at least one someone in our life we have to think about and take care of besides ourself. That alone requires at least a little effort on our part, and supports our mental and physical health—like petting, walking, feeding our dog. But researchers across the country have found many more reasons why living with a dog may be quite good for us.
• Kids with family history of allergies and asthma who, from birth, grow up with a dog, are less likely to develop eczema and asthma.
• Kids who grow up caring for dogs have higher levels of empathy and self esteem. And kids who practice reading to a dog improved their reading skills 12% compared to kids who didn’t read to a dog (and showed no improvement).
• Teens in households with dogs are more physically active than those who aren’t.
• People who walk their dog regularly have one third the risk of getting diabetes.
• People who walk with a dog walk faster than with a human buddy or alone. They walk farther too, and they’re more likely to stick to their fitness plans.
• The physical activity we do with our dogs also helps keep stress levels down. Plus, just petting a dog can lower our stress. Dogs help reduce agitation and anxiety in people with dementia.
• The act of petting a dog reduces blood pressure. Of people who experienced heart attacks, those who owned dogs had a better one-year survival rate.
• People recovering from surgery who regularly petted dogs needed 50% less pain medication.
• Elderly dog owners need 20% less medical care than those who don’t own dogs.
Hey friends! After nonstop activity around here the last few weeks, you may have noticed that the blog has been pretty quiet this week. That’s because we’re in Mexico for the week, and guys, it’s glorious. We are here for Robbie’s job (the band he Stage Manages puts on an annual festival; you may remember us going to the Dominican Republic for it in the past), so he is pretty busy. But the kids are having so much fun (thank goodness; Essley got super sick again this year right before we were supposed to leave), the weather is amazing, and we’re with some of our favorite people. And after a few 70+ hour work weeks, I was so ready for a little getaway.
The blog will remain quiet for a few more days, but head over to my Instagram to follow along on our adventures here. See you next week!