PetSpace Lecture Recap

On September 21st, the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace launched its “Animal Matters” academic lecture series with a talk on the human-animal bond titled “Everything (We Wish We Knew) About Dogs and People,” given by three expert panelists. Thirty people attended the talk and over 200 people streamed it online.

Dr. Gregor Larson (Oxford University) studies the genomes of dog remains to build phylogenetic trees that help researchers better understand the origin of modern dogs. In his work, Larson discovered a split between samples found in Western Eurasia and East Asia dating back 10,000-11,000 years before present (YBP). This geographic split is “distinct at the deep genome level” and can be used to correlate genetic differences with geographic distance of the samples. Larson and his team found that while wolves are relatively closely correlated with genetic distinctness and geographic location, this is not true for domestic dog species. Humans “have mixed up dogs to such a crazy degree all over the place that now the dogs bear little or no genetic or geographic correlation in line with their wild ancestors.” According to Larson, this mixing may date back to 7500 YBP, when farming was brought into Europe, eliminating the original split. He concludes that we cannot “infer the history of the origin of dogs just by looking at the modern population alone,” but need to use the past to better understand the present.

Dr. Naomi Sykes (University of Nottingham) researches historic relationships between humans and dogs to understand cultures. She uses a range of techniques, but focused a portion of her talk on stable isotope analysis, which can be used to create a map of humans and dog diets. Sykes found that “people and dogs have always been quite connected,” as their diets are closely related across time. Additionally, “the distance between the human and animal diet is really revealing” about the anthropogenic culture; in 10,000 YBP, the distance is further than 2000 YBP. This may be explained by the appearance of the Romans, who historically had dogs performing different roles in the society and even kept dogs as pets. Sykes uses a combination of archeological data and historical analysis to understand the “unintended consequences of pet keeping” on the culture, such as the extinction of native wolf, rabbit, and cat populations, or the emergence of tooth decay and loss in household dogs due to treats. Sykes then asks, “What consequences are there for our pet keeping” given our culture and relationship with them in modern society?

Finally, Dr. Eric Strauss (Executive Director, LMU Center for Urban Resilience) focused on the “changing relationship we have with domestic animals.” He argues that urbanization is influencing animal populations and how humans interact with animals. The human-animal relationship is co-evolutionary and in our age of urbanization, pets are “essential to our survival and well-being to connect to nature.” Human socialization requirements during development are often fulfilled with pets; more households in America now have a dog than children. Pet ownership can have positive societal consequences, as dog owners have been found to go to be less likely to visit the doctor and more likely to have higher self-fitness. Given this shift alongside increased urbanization and a stabilization of the human population, there may be the emergence of a new ecology centered on a co-relationship between humans and pets. The Annenberg PetSpace will allow for a more “aware and effective system of engagement” between humans and their pets, as we continue to navigate the interactions within the urban system.

To watch the complete talk please visit this link.