February 1, 2015
by dave

How Our Pets Domesticated Us

Credit: Nebojsa Mladjenovic, via Flickr

Credit: Nebojsa Mladjenovic, via Flickr

One of the most fascinating tidbits I came across while researching my new book, Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs, concerns the 10,000-year-old village of Shillourokambos. Located on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, the site was once home to an early farming community whose inhabitants stored grain in stone silos and corralled livestock behind wood fences. In 2001, archaeologists digging beneath the foundation of what was once a small, circular house made a surprising discovery: a shallow grave containing the skeleton of a human, and next to it, surrounded by carved seashells, the remains of a cat.

That wasn’t the fascinating part. Archaeologists had long suspected that cats first entered human society to hunt the rodents that early farming villages attracted. What surprised me was learning that the Shillourokambians had shipped in foxes for the same purpose. And yet only cats became pets. Dogs, likewise, became treasured companions when plenty of other animals could have theoretically fit the bill. Of all the species on earth, only two have morphed from wild animal to family member. It’s a process that took thousands of years.

And yet, as we were transforming these animals, they were also transforming us.

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December 11, 2014
by dave
1 Comment

The Truth about Cats and Dogs

Credit: Douglas Sprott / Flickr

Credit: Douglas Sprott / Flickr

Dogs have owners; cats have staff. Dogs are man’s best friend; cats are man’s best frenemy. Dogs come when called; cats take a message and get back to you.

As long as we’ve had dogs and cats, we’ve had dogs versus cats. Dogs are obedient, loyal, and love unconditionally. Cats are obstinate, fickle, and love when they feel like it. But are these personality differences rooted in reality—or are they just in our heads?

Science is coming closer to providing an answer.Last month, researchers published the most detailed analysis yet of the cat genome, comparing it to that of the housecat’s immediate ancestor, the Near Eastern wildcat. Among the highlights: several genes linked to fear, memory, and learning that seem to have changed as the cat morphed from feral to friendly. This makes sense, as cats, like other domesticated animals, have had to overcome their fear of humans and adapt to living in our society. We know less about how the dog’s genome changed from that of its ancestor, the gray wolf, but scientists believe it has undergone more—and more intense—genetic changes than that of the cat’s. That’s not a surprise when you consider that cats have only lived with us for about 10,000 years, while dogs have been with us for up to 30,000.

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November 18, 2014
by dave

From Wildcat to Housecat: New Study Gets at the Roots of Domestication

The Near Eastern wildcat: The ancestor of today's housecat (Credit: Arno Meintjes/Flickr)

The Near Eastern wildcat: The ancestor of today’s housecat (Credit: Arno Meintjes/Flickr)

Take a look at the cat snuggled in your bed or the dog lounging on your sofa, and it’s hard to believe that just a few thousand years ago these were wild animals. Dogs were gray wolves that roamed Europe and Asia, sniffing out prey and tearing carcasses apart. Cats were wildcats, slinking through the deserts of the Middle East and eking out an existence on rodents, birds, and reptiles. Somehow, someway, the genes of both animals changed enough to turn them into the lovable pets we know today. Now scientists are finally getting a glimpse of what some of those changes may have been.

In a study published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers reports finding a handful of genetic modifications that may have turned the wildcat into the housecat. Many of these changes are in genes you would expect: those tied to things like fear, memory, and the ability to learn new behaviors when given a food reward. After all, in order for wildcats to become kitty cats, they had to become less afraid of people and learn to live with them. This likely happened around 10,000 years ago, scientists believe, as the first wildcats entered early farming villages to hunt rodents that that were feasting on our grain. These felines wouldn’t have lasted long if they couldn’t adapt to life with humans.
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September 7, 2014
by dave

“Citizen Canine” Events in September

Hastings_Seal_CLRHi Friends,

I’ll be doing a number of book signings across the country this month:

San Francisco, CA: September 13. Keynote address at the California Animal Law Symposium. I’ll be speaking about my book at 9 am at the University of California, Hastings, College of the Law. I’ll be signing copies of the book at a cocktail reception at 6 pm.

Columbia, MO: September 15. Book reading and signing at the University of Missouri School of Law. 6 – 7 pm.

Canton, CT: September 20. Book reading and signing at Dogology from 3 to 5 pm.

Philadelphia, PA: September 30. Book reading and signing at the Upper Dublin Public Library in Fort Washington, PA at 7 pm

More details on all of these events can be found on my Events Page.

July 20, 2014
by dave

Upcoming Book Events

Hi Everyone,

I’ve got two exciting book events coming up at the end of this month. On Tuesday, July 29th I’ll be reading and signing my new book, Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogsat Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. Then, two days later, on Thursday, July 31st, I’ll be reading and signing the book at Pussy & Pooch in Beverly Hills, California. This latter event is being sponsored by Los Angeles’s Animal History Museum.

You can find more details on both events at the links above, and also on my events page.

I hope you can make it, and please help me spread the word!

June 24, 2014
by dave

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Cats and Dogs

(Credit: Ohnoitsjamie / Wikimedia Commons)

(Credit: Ohnoitsjamie / Wikimedia Commons)

When you spend four years researching a book on dogs and cats, you learn some surprising things. Here is a list of my favorites, culled from my new book, Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs, which traces the journey of pets from wild animals to family members.

More homes have dogs and cats than have kids. Nearly 150 million cats and dogs live in the U.S., one for every two people. More than half of all homes contain either a dog or a cat — five times more than have birds, horses, and fish combined. Dog and cat ownership has quadrupled since the mid-1960s — double the growth rate of the human population.

Cats aren’t from Egypt. Historians long thought that cats became domesticated in Ancient Egypt around 4,000 years ago, based on the appearance of felines in the art of the time. But recent archaeological and genetic evidence suggest that cats arose instead in what is today Israel, Turkey, and Iraq, and that they first became domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago — 5,000 years before Egypt even existed.

Dogs can outsmart chimpanzees. Point at something, and a dog will look at what you’re pointing at. Though this may seem a simple skill, our closest relatives, chimpanzees, can’t do it. That means dogs (and it turns out, cats too) may possess a rudimentary “theory of mind” — an ability to intuit what others are thinking that is rare in the animal kingdom.

A cat massacre in Europe may have sparked the Black Death. In the early thirteenth century, Pope Gregory IX issued an edict that linked cats to witchcraft and Satan. Centuries of cat massacre followed, with felines being stoned, hung, and thrown in bonfires in Medieval Europe. Some historians believe that the near-extinction of the cat allowed plague-carrying rats to flourish, helping them spread the Black Death that wiped out as much as half of the continent’s human population.

The Ancient Romans buried their dogs in human cemeteries. As much as the Ancient Egyptians worshiped their cats, the Ancient Romans revered their dogs. They buried their pooches in the same places they buried their human dead. And they wrote surprisingly sentimental eulogies for them. “I am in tears while carrying you to your last resting place,” reads one, “as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands fifteen years ago.”

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May 26, 2014
by dave

Citizen Canine: New Reviews Are In

Citizen Canine coverHi Everyone,

Thanks so much for your support of the book. It has been selling well, and it continues to garner great reviews. I just had three new ones come in last week:

The Bark: Citizen Canine is an easy, enjoyable, must-read for all who want to know more about these fascinating beings.”

Cat Fancy: “A fascinating exploration of the changing status of dogs and cats in society.”

The Conscious Cat: “Anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of how our relationships with cats and dogs evolved will find this book enlightening.”

Science News: “Grimm does an excellent job of documenting how Fido became family and how that relationship may be changing.”

I’ve also had three stories related to the book published this month: “The Secret Language of Dog Play” in The Washington Post; “How The Rising Status Of Cats And Dogs Could Doom Biomedical Research” in Popular Science; , and “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Cats and Dogs” in The Huffington Post.

And here are some of the previous reviews for the book:

“An engaging account of how dogs and cats came to be our best friends.” –The New York Times

“Well researched and also very personable, this book will make readers think as they look into the eyes of those furry beings that share their lives.” Booklist

“This engrossing, enjoyable, and well-researched title contributes positively to the literature on companion animals and belongs in all libraries.” Library Journal (starred review)

“An arresting and valuable overview, it’s packed with inspiration and imagination for our future relationship with our four-legged friends.”  –Seattle Kennel Club