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Ramblings

I recently saw the truck of the local dog musher go by. As I love to watch the dogs run I walked down towards the unplowed part of the road as soon as I could and harnessed up my snowshoes. On the way I heard the dogs singing as they got turned around to go for another run. I had walked about a mile on the beautiful snow when suddenly there they were, absolutely silent as they always are when running, coming down the hill, lickety split, giving me just enough time to step to the side. The musher yelled Straight, straight! and, happily, they ran straight, leaving me in a spray of snow. The dogs also know Gee and Haw, for left and right (or left and right, ask them!), but unfortunately they dont know Slow down or Stop. Its always full speed ahead until an anchor in the snow catches. These racing dogs are not the husky type of the Inuit, where a dose of wolf genes now and then are considered good for the dogs. These are bred very carefully for speed, ability to disperse heat (without the thick fur of huskies), love of pulling, and tendency to get along with other teammates. And any that dont think it is sheer joy to move hard and fast until exhausted get weeded out. As a naturalist I have for years been following the arguments/discussions among scientists as to where dogs came from. Some biologists have argued for two ancestors of dogs, but according to a very recent book, Dogs: A Natural History by Jake Page, all dogs, from 150 pound Newfies to Chihuahuas, are really wolves in more or less disguise. The dumps of settled or semi-settled humans may have first attracted wolves to live near humans. (In the Abruzzi Park of Italy, wolves now eat spaghetti in dumps! Furtively, at night, to be sure.) Probably the naturally tamest of wolf pups were kept and bred with each other until dogs dependent on humans emotionally as well as in other ways resulted. Then further breeding for many different purposes caused the huge differences in the looks and sizes of dogs. But their DNA differs in only .02 percent from that of wolves, whereas coyotes DNA differs in .05 percent. This means that dogs and coyotes can interbreed with wolves, though in the case of dogs which may have young at a difficult season and whose males feel no parental responsibility, the young do not survive in the wild for the most part. It does seem that the ancestors of dingoes which went to Australia with their humans 5000 years ago became truly wild again and able to survive on their own. The oldest remains of American dogs are 9,000 years old, which would of course mean they came from Siberia across the Bering Strait with immigrants. Page discusses an experiment in Russia starting in the late 1950s where someone wanted to breed fur farm foxes to be easier to raise. He eventually involved 45,000 foxes, using only one character for selection: tameness. At first they were divided into three classes at eight months when they are mature: Foxes that ran away from handlers, ones that could be handled but did not have any emotional attachment to people, and ones that wagged their tails and whined for the handlers. After only six generations he created a new class of fox, the domesticated elite. These sought out human contact before they were a month old, sniffing and licking handlers, and whimpering when ignored. Subsequent generations were further selected for tameness. By the eighth generation the coat color started having light colored patches, ears became floppy instead of upright, tails curled over their backs. After forty years of breeding there were many other changes, including smaller skulls, shorter tails and legs, snouts shorter and wider, lower levels of stress hormones, a longer reproductive season. The expression of genestiming when they are turned on, for instance--can change the looks and behavior of an animal. The development of many domesticated animals are held back in the earlier stages of the wild animal by selection so they look cuter, more babyish, probably influenced by the timing of thyroid gland secretions. Now I wonder if all breeds of dog could be evolved for the characteristics necessary in sled dogs. Id love to see a team of Chihuahuas pulling a tiny sled! REDUCE YOUR USE: I wont argue about whether the climate is warming or not. I believe what 160,000 mountain glaciers are saying worldwide, and what the two mile long ice core in Antarctica tells climatologists. There are a few glaciers that are increasing but scientists know why. So what can we do to feel as if we are doing our infinitesimal part in the gigantic problem? This will have a monthly hot tip. In case you havent noticed the pattern, I try for the first issue of the month. The first tip was Slow Down! on the highway. Save up to 23% if you have a boxy vehicle. 2. Not many people have to use a dryer. They are easy in some ways, but my mother, who raised four kids using cloth diapers (one of the biggies that can now be avoided) used a solar dryer and so do I. It is easy for me as I am not working, but heres what I do: line dry in summer, often between rain showers which are good for free exercise too (and often things dry faster than in a dryer). In the winter I use racks down cellar in the furnace room and in the bathroom upstairs. They add a little needed humidity to the house. One clothes rack is from a local hardware store, the rods covered with plastic so they dont mildew, and there are fifteen rods, offset so you can fit on an incredible amount of stuff. Things dry overnight, its free, and you dont have to listen to that awful sound of electricity being gobbled up. Its easier on the clothes too. Dryers cost the country 6 percent of our massive greenhouse gas production and up to $200 a year for a family.

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