Dear ¡Mira! reader,
- Dog’s Amazing 2-Story Dog House Must Be Seen To Be Believed
- Service dog alerts parents to daughter’s medical emergency
- ‘Dangerous’ man wanted after allegedly threatening girlfriend, killing dog: Police
- Seaside Musings: Oceanside officials ponder possibility of a dog park
- Potential site for a future Shelby dog park revealed
When I launched this newsletter six months ago, I promised you an offbeat perspective on politics, policy, people, and — crucially — pets. I hope I have lived up to that promise. But in this issue of ¡Mira!, I want to keep things light and fun in your inbox as we say goodbye to 2023, and I’m only listing the most important stories and trends about pets of the past year. (Do let me know if I missed any: [email protected])
See you in 2024! 🪅
The saga of Commander, President Biden’s biting dog. Perhaps no other dog story captured the public’s attention this year than that of Commander, the president’s 2-year-old German Shepherd. Commander was Biden’s second dog removed from the White House for aggression, after it was reported in October that Commander had been involved in multiple biting incidents. More than two years ago, the Bidens, who are clearly dog people, had to rehome Major, then 3, after he bit two people in one month. Commander’s saga sparked a robust conversation about aggressive dogs and what to do about them (it also inspired the comedy website The Onion to write this gem and this satirical exit interview with Commander published by a college newspaper). It’s unclear where Commander is now, but he definitely lives rent free in my head.
The UK bans the American bully XL. After a string of violent incidents involving American bully XL dogs in the United Kingdom, the prime minister announced a set of restrictions on the breed with the goal of eventually eradicating it. As of next year, owners of bullies XL will have to get a certificate of exemption and muzzle their dogs in public. It will be illegal to sell, advertise, gift, exchange, or abandon bully XL puppies and dogs. In an earlier issue of this newsletter, I wrote about why such breed-specific bans are ill-advised, arguing that banning dog breeds doesn’t make the public safer. Dog bans are not about public safety or the breed’s perceived dangerousness — they’re about human prejudice.
The great American reckoning with pandemic pets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 households adopted a pet. But as housing and economic hardships increase across the country, more and more people have been forced to surrender their pups to shelters. According to one estimate, the dog shelter population in the United States grew by nearly a quarter-million animals in 2023. Sadly, because of this spike, euthanasia rates in shelters are also on the rise. So this is as good a time as any to remind you to, if you have the means, help your local dog shelters. Click here for a list of licensed animal and rescue organizations in Massachusetts.
Dogs vs. rats. What can possibly go wrong? This story was equal parts fascinating and terrifying, and the photos are stunning, albeit in a weird way. A volunteer group of Washington, D.C., dog owners who call themselves the “Ratscallions” take their pups out to hunt rats. Hopefully this new role for working dogs doesn’t become a real trend.
Robot police dogs to the rescue? This is certainly a trend to watch in 2024. You’re probably familiar with “Spot,” the robot dog manufactured by Boston Dynamics that can be used to perform a variety of tasks in the workplace, such as inspections, data collection, substance detection, etc. (Also, Spot can now talk, thanks to the generative AI of ChatGPT.) But it can also be used for public safety purposes. Many experts are already sounding the alarm about the lack of transparency involved in law enforcement agencies’ use of the robot police dogs in the United States. Boston Dynamics apparently has a strict policy against any weaponization of its robots and has repeatedly stated that Spot can only be used for disarming explosives, investigating suspicious packages, and similar tasks.
A mysterious respiratory illness affects dogs. I first learned about this new illness outbreak on TikTok (where else!) during the summer. Cases have now been reported in at least 16 states, including Colorado, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. According to veterinarians, it starts with a cough then advances to pneumonia and respiratory distress, sometimes acute. Because the disease doesn’t appear to respond to antibiotics, it can kill dogs within 24 to 36 hours. Many experts are recommending that dog owners keep their pups out of day cares, boarding facilities, groomers, and any other location where dogs are kept in close quarters. If your dog is coughing, you shouldn’t panic but stay vigilant about your dog’s symptoms and contact your vet if your dog’s health doesn’t improve. Watch out for a lingering cough, lethargy, loss of appetite, difficult breathing, and any other sign of respiratory distress.
Dog training wars. Are you for “positive reinforcement” or for “balanced training”? The answer might entirely depend on the type of dog you have. The first training method uses less intrusive and minimally aversive techniques, such as rewarding your dog with a treat when they perform the behavior you’re asking them to do (i.e., sitting or getting in their crate.) The second method is more of a range of techniques, including positive reinforcement but also aversive conditioning, such as the use of a prong collar. But just like “gentle, punishment-free parenting” has become a thing in the child-rearing world, there is a war brewing in the dog-training space, with the discourse getting more and more polarized — and political. It’s the dominance-centered alphas vs. the… radical woke mob?
Are “button dogs” a hoax? Count me among the nonbelievers of button-based communication with animals. There’s been a proliferation of dog owners on social media documenting their pups’ perceived ability to communicate by pressing buttons with pictures or symbols on them that correspond to things (treat or walk) and feelings (pain or happiness). But the science behind it is still unsettled. At least it seems more legit than pet psychics!
The cloned dogs of the president of Argentina. There are many interesting facts about the newly sworn-in Argentinian president, Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian who wants to dollarize his country’s economy. But to me, one stands out: Milei has five cloned dogs from the genetic material of Conan, Milei’s original English Mastiff that died in 2017. Moreover, Milei used a pet genetic preservation company based in Worcester, Mass., and paid roughly $50,000 to get Conan’s clones.
The case against owning pets. Pet abolitionists believe that domesticating and owning animals is morally questionable. It’s a provocative debate that hasn’t quite made it into the mainstream but that could happen next year: Should humans give up animal ownership for companionship purposes? Is the answer fewer but happier pets? No matter how well-meaning we humans are, “we’re making the decision that all the overt abuse and lower-grade cruelty and neglect is more than made up for by the joy wrought by the human-animal bond,” read an essay in Vox making the case against pet ownership. In other words, we should pay more attention to the bad things lurking in “the shadows beneath the sunny narrative of pet ownership, things like physical abuse, animal hoarding, puppy mills, dog fighting, and bestiality.” Given the increasing dog shelter population and the rise in euthanasia that I highlighted above, the concept of abolishing pet ownership raises many questions — for instance, is it even possible to do it at this point? — and it really is a conversation worth having.
Massachusetts’ favorite dog. Who knew? According to a new Forbes Advisor survey of 10,000 dog owners across the nation, Massachusetts’ favorite dog is the Labrador Retriever. The beloved breed — I am entirely biased because I own two yellow Labs (see photo below) — ranked fourth in favorability nationally behind Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds, and Bulldogs. As for the least favorite breed in the country, that would be the Havanese.