TIME animals

Marine Biologists Capture Rare Photo of a Shark Birth

Scientists noticed a visibly "agitated" shark off of the Philippines coastline

Marine biologists say they’ve never seen anything like it: Possibly the first known snapshot of an elusive species of shark giving birth in the open ocean.

The image, which was published in the December issue of the journal Coral Reefs, was captured off of the Philippines coastline in 2013. Scientists there, during a routine reef survey, noticed a “visibly” agitated thresher shark swimming nearby, trailed by several cleaner fish pecking at its pelvic region. One marine photographer snapped a photo, which later revealed the cause of the shark’s agitation: The head of a newborn pup jutting out head-first from the shark’s body.

“I freaked out,” study author Simon Arthur told BBC News, adding that it was the first image of a shark birth he had encountered in his career.

TIME Science

Dogs Can Get Dementia Too

Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Dogs are living longer — and a veterinarian finds himself diagnosing canine dementia at least once a day

Zeigfield waddled, rather than walked, into my examination room. I had been seeing this obese Dachshund at my veterinary hospital for most of his 17 years, treating many of the common ailments of the breed: back problems, mild skin disease, and regular episodes of what veterinarians tactfully refer to as “dietary indiscretion” (in Zeigfield’s case, eating a batch of chocolate chip cookies, part of an old sock, and a half bottle of his owner’s Prozac). But today’s visit was different. “He just hasn’t been himself for the past several months,” his owner Carol reported. “He seems restless at night, but mostly he just lays around. He doesn’t play his old games anymore. There isn’t any single issue, but he just isn’t right.”

Further questioning revealed that there actually was a single issue that prompted the visit: Zeigfield had been urinating and defecating indoors, despite being well house-trained since puppyhood. After ruling out most of the possible physical causes, I told Carol that her dog was likely developing cognitive dysfunction syndrome, the most common type of dementia in dogs.

Pets’ lives are different now than when I started my veterinary practice 40 years ago. Dogs are no longer allowed to run freely outside to be hit by cars, fight with other animals, or eat out of garbage cans. The quality of our dog foods is considerably better, and we have controlled the mostly deadly infectious diseases. Dogs’ lifestyles are safe but sedentary, leading to longer lives and more chronic conditions like obesity, arthritis, and cognitive dysfunction—which I find myself diagnosing almost daily at the Southern California veterinary hospitals where I practice.

People are often surprised that their pets can develop something similar to the Alzheimer’s Disease we see in humans, but our brains are not that different from dogs’. When your dog greets you, the same parts of the dog’s brain sends sensory input to the hippocampus, where memory connections are forged. Just beside the hippocampus sits the amygdala, which links the memories passed on from the hippocampus to emotions (like joy at your homecoming) and refers these feelings to the neural systems that initiate activity. Various parts of the cerebral cortex sort these impulses and modify them so that they are appropriate. This how the sound of the owner’s car pulling into the driveway tells your dog an affectionate greeting, a long walk, and, of course, dinner are on their way.

The cellular changes of canine cognitive dysfunction would be recognizable under the microscope to any human brain pathologist: Plaques of beta amyloid—protein fragments believed to be the result of “oxidative stress”—lead to distinctive “neurofibrillary tangles” within the damaged nerve cells, and shrinkage of the brain appears in areas where memories are made and behaviors are shaped.

Some things are different between our species, of course. Fido doesn’t forget where he put his car keys. But he may not remember which door he uses to go out to the yard. The same inability to evaluate behavioral appropriateness may prompt a person with dementia to disrobe in public, or a dog with dementia to eliminate in the house without hesitation. Many dogs with cognitive dysfunction wander restlessly all evening in a manner reminiscent of the “sundown syndrome” of Alzheimer’s patients. And most significantly, finding familiar surroundings strangely unfamiliar often triggers anxiety and agitation.

When I explain such anxiety to owners of senile dogs, I often refer to a scene in the movie On Golden Pond, in which Henry Fonda’s character leaves the house to pick strawberries and returns a few minutes later, shaking and distraught. “Nothing was familiar, not one damn tree,” he says. “I was scared half to death.”

As with many of the dogs I treat, Sterling, a 14-year-old Labrador retriever from El Cajon, was dealing with dementia along with other health problems. He had recently lost most of his hearing, and arthritic hips made it difficult for him to rise from his favorite sleeping spot. Sterling spent hours every night panting and whining. Once he got to his feet, he could move fairly well. But as soon as he left the house for a walk around the neighborhood, he pulled nervously at the leash to get back into the house, where he would pant and tremble for the next hour. Sterling’s owners felt that he was suffering, and they had started to consider euthanasia.

Once a dog’s cognition deteriorates, it loses the ability to compensate for discomfort, and the dog’s suffering becomes compounded by anxiety. This is the point at which most compassionate owners I’ve dealt with have made the difficult decision to euthanize their long-time companion. Although dementia is almost never fatal on its own, cognitive dysfunction and physical health problems are a debilitating combination.

I told Sterling’s owners we could treat the low thyroid condition that was diminishing his hearing and potentially find more effective treatments for his hip arthritis. We could lessen his distress with the same antidepressant medications given to humans. But I couldn’t offer any honest reassurance of dramatic improvement.

Treatments for canine dementia are most effective when they are started before the signs of cognitive dysfunction start to show. This is equally true in humans, which is why researchers are working on tests to predict Alzheimer’s long before symptoms appear. A number of nutritional supplements (particularly DHA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) and various antioxidants have been shown to slow the progression of mental decline. S-AdenosylMethionine (SAMe) is an over-the-counter supplement that provides mild help for old brains. There is even an FDA-approved medication to treat canine cognitive dysfunction: Seleginine is a derivative of a drug used in human Parkinson’s Disease. In my personal experience I have not seen dramatic results with this medication, but it is usually prescribed in the later stages of dementia, when it may be “too little, too late.”

We can also borrow from the extensive research that has been done in humans and laboratory animals, which find that eating a healthy diet (high in omega-3), staying mentally active, and getting lots of aerobic exercise can delay the onset of senile dementia. The exact amount of exercise that is required to delay senility in dogs has yet to be studied, but my personal experience has been that when I see one of my canine patients who is still alert and happy at 15 years old, the dog’s owner invariably tell me, “He has always gotten out on his walks every day, no matter what.”

When we are in the middle of our busy lives, old age seems far away, and taking steps to delay senile dementia (for our dogs or ourselves) isn’t a priority. There is even a certain unspoken acknowledgment that old age and a weak mind are inexorably linked. It isn’t until your graying canine companion is anxiously pacing the house at midnight or your mother forgets your name that you think you’d do anything possible to bring back the memory and comprehension that has been lost. Something to think about while you take a long walk with your dog.

Lee Harris, who holds a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, has been taking care of pets for 40 years in the San Diego and Seattle areas. He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME animals

Fire at South Carolina Zoo Kills 28 Animals

“This is very devastating," a zoo official said

A fire at Hollywild Animal Park in South Carolina killed 28 animals in the organization’s primate barn early Friday, park officials said.

A staff member at the park found smoke in the barn as he arrived for work a little before 8:30 a.m. on Friday, according to a Facebook post from the park. Twenty-eight animals died due to smoke inhalation, and 14 other animals in the building survived and are being treated.

“This is very devastating to me and the entire Hollywild family,” said Dr. Beverly Hargus, Hollywild’s veterinarian. “At this point, we do not feel any animals are suffering. None were burned. The survivors are recovering from smoke inhalation. It appears it was a quick and painless death for the animals that died.”

Local fire officials said the fire was caused by an electrical short in a light fixture that traveled into the ceiling and spread, causing the building to fill with smoke.

Four chimpanzees, two baboons, eight lemurs, one bear cub and three tortoises were among the animals that died.

“This is definitely the kind of fire that can just happen anywhere,” Hargus said.

TIME animals

Koalas May Not Need Tiny Mittens for Burned Paws After All

If you tell the Etsy-loving people of the internet that injured koalas need little mittens to help their burned paws heal, your request for gloves will apparently be answered overnight.

Thursday, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) asked the public to make special mittens to koalas that had been injured in the brushfires raging throughout Southern Australia. The organization even provided a pattern.

“Injured koalas typically come into care with severe burns, especially on their paws, caused by contact with burning trees or from fleeing across fire grounds,” the IFAW told the Guardian.

“These injuries need treatment with burns cream and paws need to be protected with special cotton mittens. Just like any burns victim, koalas’ dressings need changing daily, meaning a constant supply of mittens is needed by wildlife carers. Some burned koalas can take up to a year to fully recover.”

Come Friday, the IFAW tweeted that their call for mittens had been met with an outpouring of tiny marsupial paw-protectors:

But while the mittens might be cute, they may be totally unnecessary — or so the Australian Marine Wildlife Research & Rescue Organization would have you believe.

“Mittens are NOT required as these will only impeded the animals ability to eat or hold onto trees limbs whilst in care,” the organization wrote in a Facebook post urging people to donate money rather than bust out their sewing machines.

The Daily Dot notes that the confusion is reminiscent of the conflicting reports as to whether oiled penguins actually need small knit sweaters in their cleaning and recovery.

TIME animals

Here’s an 85-Pound Beagle Named ‘Kale Chips’

Sarah Lauch

"He had to be wheeled out in a wagon"

Photos of an 85-pound beagle taken at Chicago Animal Care and Control this week are making the rounds on Facebook. The dog was recently given up by an owner who could not care for him anymore.

“He had to be wheeled out in a wagon,” the no-kill dog rescue One Tail at a Time writes in a Jan. 6 Facebook post. “We’re calling him Kale Chips, because that’s pretty much what his future looks like.”

Another video that One Tail at a Time uploaded to Facebook shows how hard it is for the dog to walk:

The dog will remain at One Tail at a Time until he is adopted.

“We’re currently running some tests to see if there are any medical issues we need to treat first and then he will start his weight loss plan,” says Heather Owen, president of the organization’s board. “Currently we are looking to place him in a foster home (or an adopter) with minimal or no stairs that can take him to a facility where he can do hydrotherapy a few times a week.”

LIST: 7 of the Cutest Chubby Pets

TIME animals

Watch This Assertive Pug Fight a Baby to Get Its Dog Bed Back

The pug's dogged efforts paid off

In a video shared by America’s Funniest Home Videos a couple of weeks ago that is only going viral now, a baby is having a grand old time lounging in a dog bed, but its canine owner just does not feel like sharing it.

Watch as the pug tries to pull the bed out from under the youngster with its teeth and even squeeze in and lie next to the baby. It just doesn’t seem to be able to find a comfortable position.

After a minute or so, the dog finally gets its bed back, and the youngster does not even shed a tear. In fact, it looks like she’s a bit amused by all of the fuss.

TIME politics

What Parents of Down Syndrome Kids Get About Sarah Palin That Others Don’t

Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) walks onstage to speak at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington on Sept. 26, 2014. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

For parents of a child with Down syndrome, their children figuring out a solution to any problem is a tremendous triumph

My sister stood around the corner and deliberately out of sight, curious to see what her then-14-month-old son, Chaim, was up to. He sat on the kitchen floor, legs spread around the dog’s dish. With a devilish smile, Chaim looked around a couple of times before plunging his bare hands into the bowl and extending it as an offering to his closest friend, Sammy, the family’s poodle mix.

My sister, Sheryl, couldn’t have been more delighted. No, she wasn’t fond of Chaim boy-handling the Alpo. But the idea that Chaim knew he was doing something wrong and took precautions to avoid being caught showed logic and reasoning skills that she hadn’t before seen or anticipated. After all, before a baby with Down syndrome is born, doctors warn the expectant parents that a dire, sad, dependent life may lie ahead.

“I remember thinking, ‘Boy, there’s a lot more going on in his brain than I thought,’” says my sister, Sheryl Zellis. “When you see a child sneaking to do something, it kind of heartens you.”

Steve Friess

This is the side of those controversial images—the ones that former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin posted of her son, Trig, standing on his dog—that my sister and other parents of children like Trig and Chaim say is overlooked. Even Palin, confronted by Savannah Guthrie on Today this week, understood that standing on small animals is generally not a good habit. But for a woman hoping that her 6-year-old will exceed the low expectations placed on him by both doctors and the rest of society, the fact that Trig figured out a solution to any problem is a tremendous triumph.

I admit I didn’t get that right away, either. Yes, I cringed, too, at the photos Palin proclaimed to be a terrific example of how we all should live in the year ahead. But then I saw a Facebook post from a close friend–an unimpeachable animal lover and inveterate political liberal—who is also raising a boy with Down syndrome. Along with one of the most adorable photos ever taken of a 7-year-old with his dog, Cindy Glover of Boynton Beach, Fla., wrote:

“I’m finding myself in the very odd and somewhat disorienting position of defending Sarah Palin. My 35-pound son sits on our 82-pound Golden Retriever all the time (and, yes, he has stood on her to reach something). They have a beautiful bond, and I have great confidence that Ginny will simply get up and move if she objects. It feels weird to say it, but in the Palin/PETA smackdown, I’m going to have to side with Palin this time.”

There hasn’t been much notable scientific literature on the relationship between dogs and children with Down syndrome—I found just one study about a program that uses dogs to help special needs children learn to read—but anecdotal examples abound. This week, for instance, a mother asked on one of my sister’s Facebook forums for parents of Down kids whether getting a puppy was good for her 18-month-old. She was clobbered with replies from parents offering their tales of how key a relationship to a canine has been to helping their children.

Both Sheryl and Cindy have their own examples. Sheryl used Chaim’s fascination with Sammy to teach him to roll, sit up, and cruise—all motor skill functions that Down children can have great trouble with and can take months or years longer than typical kids to master. Walking the dog “alone” around the house on a leash gives Chaim a sense that he’s accomplished something on his own, which builds his confidence. Dylan, who is generally nonverbal, will nonetheless “sing” to his dog with a little microphone. When he comforted Ginny last year as fireworks spooked her, his mother took it as a remarkable and unprecedented display of empathy.

Certainly there are other ways to encourage movement, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving thought for kids like this, “but animals are so much fun to children,” Sheryl says. “Children with Down syndrome are very visual in how they learn, and animals are very visual and dynamic, as opposed to a toy, which always does the same thing.”

Steve Friess

That Trig Palin chose to stand on Jill Hadassah–quite a name for a dog, indeed–was decried by many as animal abuse, particularly because his famous lightning rod of a huntress mother touted it with pride but no empathy for the dog. This is, unfortunately, how she’s become conditioned to react to any negative feedback, to become defensive and sharp-elbowed and treat it like any number of other liberal-versus-conservative skirmishes.

For the sake of other parents of Down syndrome kids, though, she might consider another approach. Her mothering of Trig is, by far, the most admired, most humanizing part of her biography to many, the one thing even her fiercest critics respect. She may not feel she owes anyone any explanations, but she did anoint herself as an advocate for children with special needs at the 2008 Republican National Convention in her first major national speech. The role of advocates, first and foremost, is to educate people so they will understand and then support your cause.

Those photos show an intrinsic trust between the child and his dog that implies so much about Trig’s relationship with Jill Hadassah. Sheryl worries it’s not a great habit to encourage, if only because Trig might try to stand on someone else’s, less amenable dog and get hurt in myriad ways. But surely Palin knows that, too.

Palin has that gigantic microphone. It comes with a ton of drawbacks, especially when it comes to public reaction to her family. But this is a teachable moment she can seize. It probably won’t quell PETA’s ire, but that’s the fringe anyway. The rest of us are open to knowing more.

Steve Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME animals

Dog Abandoned at Train Station With Suitcase of His Belongings

Scottish SPCA

The suitcase contained a pillow, toy, bowl and some dog food

Kai has baggage.

A brown suitcase, in fact, which was curiously left beside him when he was abandoned at the Ayr railway station in Scotland on Friday.

According to the Scottish SPCA, the shar-pei mix was found tied to a railing outside the station along with a suitcase of his belongings, including a pillow, toy, bowl and some dog food – a photo of the melancholy-looking pup is tugging at the heartstrings of dog lovers on Facebook, who’ve shared his photo over 3,500 times.

“Kai is around two to three years old and is a lovely dog with a nice nature. We will look after him until we can find him a permanent and loving home,” said inspector Stewart Taylor. “Regardless of the fact Kai was left with his belongings, this was still a cruel incident and we are keen to identify the person responsible.”

Since the dog was micro-chipped, authorities were able to determine that the pooch’s name is Kai and that he was sold on Gumtree, a website offering free classified ads, in 2013, but they do not know the address of the person who bought him.

“This case highlights the potential consequences of selling an animal online as it often leads to the impulse buying of pets that people know very little about,” added Taylor.

Since abandoning an animal is an offense under Scotland’s Animal Health and Welfare Act, the person who abandoned Kai can expect to be banned from keeping animals for a fixed period or life.

Authorities encourage anyone with information to call Animal Helpline or email info@scottishspca.org.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Virginia

Virginia Transportation Department Turning Roadkill Into Compost

Green Compost Bin In Garden
Jill Tindall—Getty Images

(WINDSOR, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Transportation is working to turn highway carcasses into plant food.

The state agency is testing the practice of turning roadkill into compost at four sites across the state, using a special system that accelerates decomposition and suppresses odors.

The Virginian-Pilot reports the system costs $140,000 and can break down animals in as little as six weeks in concrete bins.

The compost is then used to control erosion and help establish grass after construction.

Officials say roadkill collected by the agency is traditionally buried or driven to landfills at a cost of $4 million a year for disposal.

Several other states already have widespread programs to compost roadkill.

TIME celebrity

Looks Like Beyoncé and Blue Ivy Got to Hang Out With a Tiger Cub

And animal rights advocates are not happy with the photo

Beyoncé, Jay Z & Blue #Thailand

A photo posted by Beyoncé (@beylite) on

In a viral photo that is bound to make anyone who just got back from holiday vacation jealous, it looks like Jay Z, Beyoncé, their toddler daughter Blue Ivy, spent quality time with a tiger cub at the Phuket FantaSea theme park in Thailand.

The above image, which recently appeared on an Instagram account for Beyoncé fans “@Beylite“, may seem like a cute family bonding moment, but it has already stirred controversy.

The London Evening Standard reports Jan Schmidt-Burbach, a wildlife expert for animal welfare charity World Animal Protection, argues, “A tiger is not a plaything,” so animals’ “health and well-being should not be sacrificed for a photo opportunity.”

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