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Dogs & the Human Saga

Photo by// Patricia Canavan
Dr. Charles Rinehimer cozies up with an admirer after his presentation of "Dogs & the Human Saga"

BY YVONNE KANYI

The Commuter

  Hypothesizing that humans are genetically programmed to be attracted to dogs, NCC professor Charles Rinehimer spoke Nov. 27 about the worth of dogs, which goes way beyond companionship.

  “We’re not talking about dogs as pets,” the biology professor and veterinarian said. “We’re talking about how dogs evolved and how they became a part of cultures around the world.”

  During his presentation titled “Dogs & the Human Saga” in College Center 220, Rinehimer said that wolves essentially self-domesticated themselves.

  The first confirmed dog skull is about 30,000 years old although remains as old as 60,000 years old have also been found, said Rinehimer, who began his midday presentation by asking audience members to close their eyes and listen to the eerie sound of a howling wolf pack.

  Wolves that had been exiled by their pack lived close to human communities, which fed them in exchange for the wolves warning them of dangers from other animals, Rinehimer said. These tamer wolves mated, creating offspring that were friendlier around humans.

  Dogs’ senses are far stronger than those in humans, he said. They have ten 10 times better sight than humans at night, allowing them to easily identify objects in the dark. But where they really stand out is their sense of smell, which is 40,000 to 60,000 times greater than that of humans and is so strong that dogs can actually smell fear.

   Because of their heightened senses, dogs are a great tool for tracking, Rinehimer said. He showed a video of park rangers in Tanzania using two dogs in their team to track down poachers.

  Research is being done using dogs to detect cancer early. The dogs are able to identify volatile smells from urine samples with a 90 percent accuracy in detecting cancer.

  Dogs serve as medical assistance for diabetes patients, able to detect when a person’s blood sugar drops too low and alert that person to take action. In one case highlighted by Rinehimer, a medical assistance dog, Magic, has prevented 2,500 hypoglycemic episodes from afflicting his diabetic owner.

  Dogs also serve as teaching aides to autistic children, triggering positive interactions that the children normally wouldn’t have with other humans, Rinehimer said. Dogs are able to sense agitation and try to comfort the kids.

  Similarly, dogs are used as a form of therapy for those with post-traumatic stress disorder. They wake their owners from nightmares and sense their agitation even before their owners realize it and act to calm them.

  “Dogs are friggin’ amazing!” Rinehimer declared at the conclusion of his presentation.

   The event was part of this year’s humanities series at the college,Humanity’s Best Friend: Dogs and the Human Saga,” which is underwritten by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the generous support of donors.