On January 25th, 2011, Dr. Alan Beck, Director of the Center of the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, presented a lecture entitled “A tale of two species: co-evolution and domestication of dogs and people” to the One Health Collaborative Intellectual Exchange Group. In a simultaneously entertaining and informative lecture, Dr. Beck explored the roots of our unique relationship with domesticated animals through a detailed discussion of the domestication of dogs, the first animals to enter into such a relationship. First, he differentiated domestication from other types of human-animal bonds and gave a brief history of the domestication of dogs. He then noted that Belyaev’s fox farm provides experimental evidence that domestication is possible. Selectively bred for tameness alone, these foxes exhibit many characteristics (such as floppy ears, piebaldness, white “star” marking on the forehead) that are common to most domesticated species including dogs, horses, cats and sheep. Domestic animals of all species also appear to have “grown up as babies.” A comparison of dog and wolf morphology demonstrates that dogs most resemble the juvenile, rather than the adult, wolf. This resemblance may be significant in the domestication process. Features such as prominent eyes and larger head size, possessed by dogs, cats, ET and Mickey Mouse, have been observed to stir emotions of love and protection in humans. Today, we know that the human-animal relationship can be so strong that the presence or simple touch of an owner will slow a dog's heartrate, and a dog's companionship will often calm a person's anxiety. As we continue to develop a One Health perspective, Dr. Beck's words helped us understand what allowed dogs to enter human lives in such a unique way and reflect on the interconnectedness of humans and animals, especially domesticated ones. While animals may pose some health and disease risks to humans, any program to address these risks must take into account the benefits of the human-animal bond and work to promote both human and animal health simultaneously.
Discussion questions from students and attendees:
What detrimental effects of “wild” animal domestication have occurred for both humans and animals?
Companion animals such as dogs can act as reservoirs for human diseases like rabies and methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Has this always occurred and how can it affect human-pet interactions? How has domestication played a role in human-animal transmission of disease?
How is this knowledge applicable to public health? How can it be made accessible and distributed to those who work on population human health issues?
Should ownership of violent breeds of dogs (such as the pitbull) be allowed from a public health standpoint?
How can we balance the tension between the benefits and risks of the human-animal relationship (i.e. companionship vs disease transmission)?