Tuesday, 30 October 2007

HOW MUCH Is That Kitty In the Window?

It is being described as the world's largest, most exotic and rarest cat. Standing at four feet tall, with striking features that echo its ancestors the African serval and the Asian leopard cat, the Ashera is certainly an impressive looking animal. As newspapers have been reporting today its creator, Californian designer pet company boss Simon Brodie, is confident people will be clamouring to own the pet, which has been bred to be sociable, easily maintained and unfussy about its food. But how many people are seriously going to be willing to meet its £12,000 price tag?

Friday, 26 October 2007

Why Dogs Get Depressed At This Time Of The Year Too

There's been quite a bit of publicity these past few days about the increasing number of dogs seemingly suffering from what doctors refer to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD syndrome, but the rest of us call Winter Blues. It seems vets here in the UK are noticing more and more dogs are displaying symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as sleeping more during the daytime, becoming disinterested in play and generally less good company. Several explanations are being put forward. One alternative I would suggest is anxiety about the imminent arrival of the firework season. From next week onwards the country's skies will be aflame once more as Guy Fawkes Night - or month as it seems now to have become - gets under way. This is a hugely stressful time for many dogs who are terrified of the noise generated. It is entirely possible dogs are depressed because they know this is around the corner. There are a few reasons for this. First we know dogs have excellent internal clocks and can almost certainly tell what time of the year it is. Their sense of smell is going to help here too. The first whiff of gunpowder and bonfires will be picked up, probably from miles away, immediately making dogs fearful of what is to come. Intriguingly, we also know that dogs have an uncanny ability to sense loud noises BEFORE they happen. A well-known study carried out in Sarajevo during the siege of that city discovered that a large percentage of the dog population regularly took cover minutes before mortar or artillery fire began. Amazingly, 72 per cent of owners there reported that their dogs dragged them away from their normal path during the siege moments before gun or artillery fire began, probably saving their lives in the process. So I wouldn't discount PFA, or Pre Fireworks Anxiety being more responsible than SAD. SADly.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Heard The One About The Dog Who Tells Jokes?

Do dogs have a sense of humour? Can they crack jokes? The Daily Telegraph's Washington correspondent, Toby Harnden reckons they can. In fact he thinks his dog Finn is a real practical joker. When Toby tries to put his baby daughter in her car seat, Finn jumps in to block him, flashing a playful smile as he does so. Is he joking? Well, dogs definitely have a sense of humour. They must do, because some things make them laugh. A scientist named Patricia Simonet was the first to notice dogs make “a breathy, pronounced, forced exhalation” that happens exclusively during playtime. She concluded that it’s the canine equivalent of a chuckle. Subsequent tests proved that dogs really like the sound of laughter. One study found that dogs who were played the sound of canine laughter became significantly less stressed and more sociable. The question of what makes a dog laugh though remains unanswered. Darwin’s friend George Romanes reckoned it was a “good joke”. Maybe Finn is the evidence he was right.

Cats, on the other hand, don't laugh.
The strange, curling of the top lip they frequently perform may look like an expression of amusement but in fact this is a method of heightening their sense of smell during the mating season. The technique, known as the Flehmen Response, is common in horses, zebras and donkeys too. Cats do signal happiness in different ways, however. They perform a kneading action with their paws. The action is known by various names, from skronking and paddy pawing to making muffins.

Monday, 15 October 2007

The Ultimate Teacher's Pet

An English school has enlisted a dog as its newest classroom assistant. As the Daily Mail reports today Betty, a nine-month-old Springer Spaniel sits in on a series of classes at Rough Hay Primary School, in Wednesbury in the West Midlands. Teachers there reckon she improves life at the school in a number of ways - from making the children more considerate and communicative to helping the school's autistic pupils. "We have four autistic children at the school and she's especially helpful to them," said Mark Klekot, the headmaster. "They find it easier sometimes to deal with teachers through Betty."
June McNicholas, a psychologist in animal and human health, told the Mail the dog was an excellent idea. "Children often find them (dogs) easier to relate to - the world of grown-ups is often quite confusing. They know that animals will not judge them, will not 'break friends' with them, and will not tell tales."

Friday, 12 October 2007

What NOT To Get Rover This Christmas

Wondering what to get your dog for Christmas? Well whatever you do, don't get Rover a robot companion. The shops are full of these yapping little automatons at the moment. Some of them are rather cute. But as this film clip of what happened when a team of researchers tried to introduce Sony's AIBO robot dog to another canine demonstrates, real dogs don't take terribly kindly to them. In the understatement of the century, the researchers concluded that:“It seems that at present there are some serious limitations in using AIBO robots for behavioral tests with dogs." Apparently the AIBO's warranty doesn't cover injuries to the robots by dogs. Now there's a surprise.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Odd Couples: Some Strange Cat & Dog Bedfellows

Today's newspapers are full of stories about Honey, the American golden retriever who is acting as a surrogate mother to a stray kitten called Precious. To the astonishment of her owners in Virginia, Honey took pity on the kitten when it arrived at their home and now is even suckling the malnourished youngster. Heart-warming as the story is, however, it is far from unique. Cats and dogs have both been known to adopt other species, birds in particular. In China, for instance, there were recent reports of a chihuahua that adopted an orphaned chick and a dog that raised a pair of tiger cubs in a zoo. My favourite story, however, is of the cat from Porto Alegre in Brazil that adopted a bird it found lying injured on the floor. Rather than eating it, the cat dragged the bird back to its home where it nursed it back to health. The bird repaid the favour by becoming the cat's constant companion, even when it had fully recovered and was free to fly away. The odd couple struck up such a close rapport that the bird began acting as the cat's evil henchman. The bird's twittering would lure in other, healthier birds who would instantly get pounced upon by the cat. A very strange relationship indeed, sort of Tweety Pie and Sylvester in reverse.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The Mighty Boo

An American chihuahua called Boo Boo has been officially recognised as the world's smallest dog by the Guinness Book of Records. He is four inches long, and - as you will see if you visit his owner's site - is the size of a matchbox.

The Pope & The Pussycat

I knew cats were creative. (The composer Scarlatti's pet provided him with the inspiration for one of his best-known pieces, when it tapped the melody out on his piano.) But who knew they could write books? Apparently, Pope Benedict's cat Chico has written his autobiography. "Chico and Joseph" chronicles the cat's time with the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pontiff.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The World's Weirdest Sounding Dog

How Does A Barkless Dog Sing? In a very, very weird voice, that’s how.
The Basenji is the only breed of dog that can’t bark. But as this recording of a Basenji accompanying a flute reveals, they can make a whining sound that really doesn't seem to be of this world.

Kitty's Dark Little Secret

Whisper it quietly, but you may have Jack The Ripper living under your roof. New figures released in the US reveal that while they may look like cute kitties, domestic cats are in fact sophisticated, cold and extremely prolific killers.
In America alone, cats kill a staggering one BILLION mammals and HUNDREDS of millions of birds a year, mostly after dark. Cats are so prolific in parts of the country they have reduced some birds to the status of endangered species. Action to rein in these killer kitties is already being taken in some states where cats are confined to quarters at night time. For a glimpse of how smooth and deadly a killer a cat can be, have a look at this fascinating National Geographic film about how a mild-mannered puss called Molly is transformed into a deadly assassin by night.

Saving Frodo

An English fireman saved his sniffer dog Frodo by giving him the kiss of life. The Press Association reports that the man Steve Tugwell, 42, leapt into action when he saw the Welsh springer spaniel lying unconscious after a bout of playfighting with a fellow sniffer dog called Patch. Patch's jaws got tangled up in Frodo's collar and choked him leaving him looking limp and lifeless. It was then that quick-thinking Steve intervened. He cut off the collar with a knife then moved Frodo's tongue, which had turned purple, aside, formed a cone with his hands, and blew three times down the dog's throat.
"He looked a goner," Steve said afterwards. "I blew three times down the cone and to my amazement I saw Frodo's rib cage started to move." Unsurprisingly, it's not an experience Steve is in a hurry to repeat. "It wasn't pleasant - Frodo's mouth was horribly smelly - but it saved his life and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again." The two-year-old was rushed to a vet, made a full recovery and was back on duty two weeks later.