We should be blaming mono-culture, not agriculture

In The Wild Life of our Bodies, Rob Dunn illustrates some of the negative ways in which agriculture has affected the modern human’s body. He draws on genealogical evidence that “proves” humans could not digest milk properly before the domestication of cattle, asserting that our new reliance on milk could be a contributor to the rise in obesity. I wonder, was Dunn referring to all milk? He did mention that milk served as “baby food,” but he then excludes humans from this category. Maybe I just misunderstood the reading, but to me the notion that human offspring did not used to rely on breast milk  seems preposterous. Dunn perhaps was only referring to milk from livestock, but he did not mention human breast milk whatsoever in this passage, which left me a little confused.

Furthermore, I feel the scientists’ arguments he brings up (though he does not entirely back their findings) seem to put a little too much weight on agriculture as the key culprit, when I personally see mono-culture as the main issue behind obesity, starvation, and an unfortunate monopoly of the food industry. If we had a better variety, instead of almost all of our foods coming from corn, we would create a more stable and sustainable system, as well as returning to a diet better suited for our body’s needs. That being said, I believe the rise of agriculture is inevitable. In the almost Utopian society Dunn describes as that of the hunter-gatherers (where one would find food and then do art all day), the system eventually failed. This failure was inevitable, with human nature being so rooted in the Tragedy of the Commons theory; we will take more than our fair share from the land, and then we run out. Without social hierarchies and a controlled system (like agriculture), of course we ran out of food and the African villages had to move from one area to the other. Unfortunately, business has turned agriculture from a means of survival to a means of maximum profit, but we would have all suffered had agriculture not taken off.

As a bit of a gym rat, and one who has to watch my diet carefully due to hypoglycemia, I wanted to conduct a little research on whether eating as a hunter-gatherer (mainly a variety of fruits and nuts) like Dunn described would serve the same health benefits in the modern human body today, as it supposedly would have the historical humans described in this passage. Here is a summary of my findings:

While we should always strive to steer clear of as many processed foods as possible, diets such as the paleo or caveman diet, that recommends we eat as the hunter-gatherers did, it has not proven beneficial to our health to cut out eggs, dairy, and grains. Furthermore, dietitians view a diet this restrictive as “unrealistic” and “lacks balance.” Furthermore, the article points out that there are several discrepancies within scientific research of what cavemen would have actually eaten on a day to day basis. Overall, the choice to eat leaner, high-protein meat, and trying to avoid processed foods definitely presents benefits, but the paleo diet is too extreme and research does not necessarily support it.


Where are we now?

The wildlife of our bodies:

I thought it was interesting how Dunn elaborated on the mutualistic relationship we had with cows. By allowing us the milk and preventing others from their grass we used each other to survive and thrive. I had no idea about the past relationship between humans and cows and how much they may have altered our genetics.  I think it is also interesting to see how our personalities were affected by this relationship and vs the hunter gatherer relationship. Dunn brings up how obesity has risen in the past decades especially in the United States. I am interested in the idea about how we could all eat the same thing and not look the same based on our genetic predisposition. How much would we alter? Obviously height and build are not able to be altered but if relatively similar people ate exactly the same how much would their bodies still differ? How do we tailor a diet so that it most efficiently helps the person reach a target weight or size and then further to maintain that reached level? He talks about how milk is in the food pyramid still but most adults aren’t actually able to digest it. What are the top substitutes or what should be there instead that would give the same benefits?

“At some point in their association with humans and human habitats, these animals developed closer social or economic bonds with their human hosts than did other commensals inhabiting this niche. These bonds brought them, eventually, into a domestic partnership with humans. The classic example of an animal that likely traveled this pathway to domestication is the dog, whose domestication is thought to have begun when less wary wolves were drawn to human encampments to scavenge on human refuse (Coppinger and Coppinger 2001, Morey 1994)” This was the most interesting in the different pathways to domestication article because of our past discussion about the wolf domestication process and how some see the dog as a dumbed down version of the wolf. It is interesting to think about how much humans have altered the process of domestication and to think about where these truly domesticated animals would be had they not ever made that human contact. Where would traditionally domesticated animals today be without humans?

Dunn and Zeder


I thoroughly enjoyed this article, I think it addressed a number of nagging issues we talked about in class and gave a very clear and concise explanation for the domestication of multiple species. The point about having three distinct pathways towards domestication was fantastic. Oftentimes we mentioned the idea of dogs or cats coming from casual interactions at the fringes of human society and then in the same breath mentioned that such a method would not work with cattle or horses. Zeder’s theory addresses that issue by the incredibly obvious (now that it’s been pointed out) solution of multiple pathways. Why couldn’t there be multiple avenues of domestication? With multiple domestication events occurring worldwide the odds of the same method of domestication being used for every species is incredibly low. And as Zeder said, the pathways aren’t mutually exclusive. Animals such as pigs could have been domesticated through a variety of methods, as they no doubt were.


The article mentioned brain sizes and the relationship between domestication and decreased cranial capacity. A startling point was made when Zeder explained that though it seemed (relatively) easy to reduce brain size through domestication, it was very hard to increase brain size through reintroduction of domesticated species to the wild. This observation has a lot of implications for the survival of domesticated species without human beings. We know that many species are incredibly dependent on us for their survival (and vice versa), but in my mind at least there’s always been a vague notion that should human beings suddenly disappear, our pets and livestock would gradually turn feral and become undomesticated. Sure many would die from their dependence on the now vanished mankind, but enough would live to have a small but eventually thriving population. With the knowledge that brain size and other domesticated morphologies might be quite hard to reverse, it seems possible that in reality most of those animals would die out completely. It’s a rather sad thing to think about in my opinion…




Dunn’s Wild Life of Our Bodies takes the typically attitudes and ideas about domestication and turns them on their head. You could argue whether his overall thesis is accurate or worth considering, but he certainly does make some good points. The length of time between most domestication events and today can be roughly estimated to about 10,000 years. This number differs of course depending on what species or event you decide to start from, but as a general number it’s relatively sound. 10,000 in human history is an eternity, in fact it’s essentially an entirety. However, 10,000 years in the history of the evolution is a blink of an eye. In the history of earth it doesn’t even register. One of the  principles of evolution is that it is slow. Even when considering rapid evolutionary shifts, 10,000 years is just barely enough time for fundamental  changes to arise. Dunn’s work points out that essentially what we’ve done as a species is overrun our own evolution. We’ve moved so quickly and changed our environments so rapidly that biological evolution as it has always occurred simply cannot keep up. In response, in order to meet the changing demands of our environment we’ve evolved technologically.


Instead of developing thicker fur or metabolic pathways that might grant us the ability to hibernate in cold winter climates, we starting wearing clothing. Instead of developing physical features that might allow us to flourish in unbearably hot conditions, we have an air conditioner. Impaired vision can be corrected with glasses, faulty cell replication systems with anti cancer drugs, and lack of sharp teeth or claws with knives or spears. These changes have allowed us to master our environment in an unprecedented manner, giving humans the ability to essentially remove themselves from the ever running evolutionary race by bypassing the main qualification that are required for such a race: time. We didn’t have the time to wait for evolution to catch up if we as a species wanted to spread out and continue reproducing. In response, we changed the rules and used our ingenuity to make physical evolution if not irrelevant, then close to it. Now, the ingenuity that allowed for such developments certainly is a product of evolution, so by that logic it’s possible to attribute all of human technological evolution to the biological evolution that preceded it.


Now for a small personal opinion of the book: I think this book relies heavily on the logical fallacy of false dilemma. Essentially, I believe Dunn has made a number of good points about the disadvantages of our current relationship with nature, but then by extension he goes on to say that because domestication of nature is “bad,” the hunter-gatherer/ancient ways must be “good.” That’s not true. It’s not bad or good, it’s simply different. While Dunn only states this a few times, his overall tone is conveyed through adjectives like the “dark path” that led to aurochs and human mutual domestication.

Topics for Discussion: 2/25/14

How did Part Wild change any previous conceptions we might have had regarding the domestication of the wolf/dog ancestor? What are the prevalent theories regarding this evolution?

What are the real differences between tame, trained, domesticated, and wild? How do we apply these rules when comparing the behaviors of wolf-dogs vs. dogs vs. cats?

What are the legal/ethical issues surrounding wolf-dogs, regarding their acceptance and breeding? How should society handle them?

Are dogs really “retarded versions of wolves”?

Is an emotional connection between a wolf-dog and a human possible?

-Corinne & Molly


Remembering Alika

The posts this week about the first section of Part Wild have made me think a lot about a wolf-hybrid I lived with in the late eighties. I thought I’d share some of my impressions of life with an Inyo-like creature as part of our ongoing discussion about the distinction between tame and domestic, and the liminality of the domestic condition.

Big Sticks

Big Sticks, Frozen Pond

Leaping Shadows


Sharing the Big Stick


The photos here show Alika, who was 75% wolf and 25% husky playing with my German Shepherd, Alyosha (named after the kind brother Karamazov, but known to his friends and family as “Loshy”).  Anyone who has read Part Wild will recognize the wolfiness of Alika’s lithe, leggy frame and note how it contrasts Loshy’s burly, more softly contoured silhouette.  They were both amazing creatures, fast friends and allies.  They shared a love of big sticks, woodchucks, swimming in the pond, and doing anything the humans were doing (writing dissertations being the most common activity). And yet they were also very different, and many of Terrill’s difficulties with integrating Inyo into a domestic space rang true with my days with Alika.

Loshy was one of those incredibly perceptive dogs who never needed “training.”  He was eager to please, played outfield on an intramural softball team, worked as a therapy dog in the University of Michigan hospital, and took his duties as mascot of the girl scout camp where I lived very seriously.  He loved everyone but feared pizza boxes. He was a vigilant guardian of my person but would have watched quietly while thieves took my last possession.

Alika was different. (See Corinne’s reminder that we need to consider animals as individuals as well as representative of a species.) Her powers of perception could be extraordinary, but I would not characterize my interactions with her as “training.”  She was extremely attentive to her “pack” of humans, domestic canines, the living room couch, and a large grey cat. She was very gentle and very shy. She ate normal dog food and whatever the campers gave to her. But she could not be confined.  Like Inyo, she would destroy or thwart the most elaborate and expensive containment system out there. When we were home all was well, but if she got loose while we were gone she would run. And run, and run and run. We spent hours, sometimes days, searching for her, only to have her reappear at the camp when she thought we were home. Loshy taught her to hunt woodchucks and she taught him to chase deer. She could not fathom why the humans discouraged this activity.  Unlike Inyo, she figured out a way to live in mixed company, but the part of her that was wild – intractably, genetically, evolutionarily not domesticated – eventually undid her.  These old photos remind me of her gentle, ghostly beauty.

I could go on for quite a while, but will stop for now. Kara’s insightful queries about dogs’ “sixth sense” also reminded me that we still need to talk about cross-species communication.  So if you get a chance, have a look at Patricial McConnell’s latest post about how humans misinterpret dog affect due to our own sign stimuli.

Part Wild

Here’s an interesting brief video on wolves and their impact on the Yellowstone ecosystem. It’s connection to Part Wild isn’t strong, other than that it reinforces Terrill’s implicit disagreement with stigmas about wolves, but it’s still a good watch: This Will Shatter Your View of Apex Predators: How Wolves Change Rivers

Part Wild has been by far my favorite read so far this semester. Her descriptions of Inyo, his behavior, and her thoughts with respect to him are pleasant to read and at times pretty humorous.

One feeling I had was surprise that Inyo exhibited such friendliness toward humans and other dogs. IIRC, Inyo is roughly 75% wolf. He seems more concerned with tearing apart Terrill’s property than other living things. My black lab is ferocious toward any dogs that come near my parents’ property in Maryland, while Inyo seemed to welcome the dogs Terrill and Ryan brought in.

I experienced a little bit of frustration with Terrill in how often she seemed to put off building proper mechanisms to keep Inyo from escaping her backyard. I’m sure she was a busy person like most, and obviously her finances weren’t in the best shape, but on multiple occasions she says something along the lines of she “hadn’t gotten around do it,” and as a result Inyo escapes on seemingly countless occasions.

Though wolves and dogs are genetically the same species, their differences are obvious in this book. Inyo may be 25% dog, but she clearly shows dispositions that favor her finding a niche in the wild. To me, she is a wolf who is comfortable with humans. From this standpoint, I don’t admire Terrill keeping Inyo in a human household.  Having substantial genetic similarity doesn’t seem terribly relevant when classifying dogs and wolves as the same or different species when the genes associated with behavior are so clearly different. In this sense I disagree in part with the heavy focus on reproductive capability in classifying species.

It is difficult to gain much insight from this book on the nature of domestication for obvious reasons. Terrill does make brief scientific explorations (most of which we’ve covered already — e.g., genetically tame foxes), this account is autobiographical and often personal (i.e., about her, not about wolf dogs). However, this doesn’t take away from the book being a genuinely enjoyable read.



Animals sixth sense

The Part wild excerpt for this week was an interesting look into the life of owning a wolf dog hybrid as a pet.  The relationship between Inyo and Terrill is compelling enough to make me want to own a wolf dog myself one day. Out of all the roles Inyo played in Terrill’s life, I was most struck by that of, “protector.” Terrill alludes to a past physically abusive relationship between her and her former boyfriend Eddie that resulted in her fleeing and constantly fearing his return. This is her initial motivation behind wanting a dog, a companion and protector to keep her calm and company while fearing Eddie’s reappearance in her life. While Inyo isn’t the first wolf dog she fell in love with, Inyo and Terrill have the advantage of bonding since Inyo’s birth making their relationship strong. The role of protector interests me because of the gentle nature Inyo has when around Terrill. It is intriguing that this partly, “wild” animal has the capacity to be both aggressive when exposing the role of protector while similarly passive with her owner. This opens up the topic of whether and to what extent animals are able to sense human emotions. For instance, if Eddie was to return and Terrill felt fear, how does Inyo pick up on that emotion and respond to it accordingly.  I used to ride horses in middle school and my instructor always told us not to fear the horses because they could notice this fear and it would make them jumpy and uncomfortable. Whether or not this was a lie to make us more comfortable around the animals or not is up for judgment. I think the science behind understanding the extent animals respond to human emotion is interesting. Animals are far more observant then we give them credit for sometimes. Recently there was an article in the news about a Doberman finding cancer in a woman while she was sleeping. I have attached the link below but what are everyone’s thoughts on the interaction between human emotion and animal observation?



Novelty- the agent behind our desire to be different

Part Wild, an autobiographical recount of Ceiridwen Terrill’s decision to try and raise a “wolf-dog,” not only focuses on the impact of raising a “part wild” animal, but also on her personal life, from leaving an abusive relationship to starting over with a new, gentle man.

Ceiridwen, or Vitamin C, as her new husband likes to call her, initially decides she wants a dog in order to redeem herself for leaving her dogs behind with her violent ex-boyfriend. After visiting a shelter and breaking into the secret storage room, she discovers a wolf-y looking dog and decides that’s the type of dog for her. Beyond desiring the wolf-dog “hybrid” (this term is later refuted) for protection against her ex determined to find her, and a hiking buddy, she may not realize it, but she is attracted to the idea of owning this dog due to humans’ natural attraction to things that are novel; things that are new or different.

This psychological law of attraction not only helps push her to desire such a unique and exotic dog “breed,” but she also rushes herself into marriage to the quirky Ryan, despite his bounced checks and childlike addiction to video games. Ryan is an entirely different person than she’s ever met before, and he is the polar opposite of her ex, which leads her to desire him even more than she would have if he were a bit more run-of-the-mill. It could even trick her into feeling of love, which is really infatuation from our obsession as humans with things that are different.

We could argue the power of this social dynamic, but I believe from psychological research, as well as many of Vitamin C’s actions, that this law of attraction could actually overrule our common sense. For example, Vit. C sees with her own eyes her future puppy’s mother attack the neighbor’s cat out of nowhere, though the breeder claims she is the most gentle wolf dog she has owned. Furthermore, the main character ignores more red flags, both with her relationship and adopting the part wild puppy because she is so in love with the idea of something/someone different. She wants a dog that can protect her from her old abuser, but wolves are actually horrible guardians.  They would be more focused on getting the prey for themselves than trying to keep you safe, as Ceiridwen learns after already adopting the puppy. I learned in my introductory psychological class that novelty absolutely impacts one’s dating decisions and can explain why your adorable daughter brings home Diesel, the lead guitarist for a screamo band.  If it can impact one’s dating decisions, it can absolutely effect one’s purchasing decisions.

The principle of novelty can even account for the reason exotic pets have hit the market at all. Why would we consciously want a half wild animal, when we have so many options common domestic animals? Because we are more attracted to things that stray from the norm. I would be lying if I said I haven’t fallen in love with the idea of owning a cute hedgehog, or a tiny turtle (illegal if under 4″), or even a toyger (half Siberian tiger, half domestic cat), but after reading this novel, I feel even more affirmed that trying to domesticate a wild animal is simply wrong and selfish. Throughout her recounts of her adventures with Inyo, Terrill struggles to train and trust the part wild wolf-dog she brought into her tiny condominium. Even in the training session at PetCo, the trainer and Ceiridwen can see that these behaviors of obedience are unnatural for a wolf, and she feels bored, confined, and out of place in her forced human world.

There is definitely evidence that sometimes an environment with humans can benefit an animal; for example, the domestic dog clearly thrives living with humans, for they desire to be challenged and taught, and would otherwise perish in the wild. However, the innate predators like the wolves were meant to remain in their natural habitat and not to serve as pseudo-Fido’s for the greedy humans who simply want a unique animal. It goes against nature, endangers the humans, and frustrates the extremely intelligent and wild wolf.


Wolves, Dogs and In-betweeners

I’ll start off by saying I really enjoyed reading Terrill’s Part Wild, even if I didn’t agree with her life choices at times. I have had a lifelong fascination with wolf-dogs, so reading about Inyo and her life was entertaining. The book didn’t necessarily stimulate any new thoughts or questions about the relationship between wolves and dogs and how dogs came to be domesticated, but it did reinforce some theories I’d already had.

I liked that Terrill kept coming back to looking at the process of domestication of the dog from all different aspects: behavioral, morphological, and genetic. To me, wolf and dog are the same species, but I feel like a wolf is more like a breed of dog (albeit a very estranged breed) than an ancestral link in the chain. While we were domesticating dogs in all shapes and sizes, wolves were undergoing their own changes as a species, and most of these changes were probably the exact opposite of what we bred into the domestic dog: distrust of humans, tendency to avoid human civilization, and looking at us as predators more than providers. This brings me back to something I’ve been wondering since talking about Belyaev’s foxes: the researchers bred the foxes into two distinct groups- domestic, and aggressive. Could this be what happened to the common ancestor of dogs and wolves? Those with the slightly higher tendency to be curious about their neighbors the humans, who didn’t mind their company, and who could develop a bond with them would be those whose descendents became the domestic dog. On the other hand, the tendency to avoid human society and distrust what could be perceived as threat was exacerbated in the strain which became modern-day wolves. I see their common ancestor as on more of a middle-ground behaviorally, with wolves and dogs at the two polar extremes, due to inbreeding and selection (natural or artificial).

One thing that does irk me is that people have a tendency to refer to all domestic dogs in a general sense, as one entity whose behavior is constant between individuals. Dogs are more complex than that. Different breeds show different behavioral traits- how could a Chihuahua possibly show the same behavioral tendencies as a St. Bernard? But even deeper than on a breed level, different individual dogs have different personalities. They aren’t as complex as human personalities, to be sure, but anyone who has owned dogs, who has watched them interact and watched other dogs can tell you that they exist. Dogs have personal preferences, distastes, and habits which start developing as soon as they’re born. From research papers I’ve read on behavioral analysis in wolves, it appears they have something akin to personalities as well, however the research is not generalizable enough to be sure. Given the circumstances, we can’t expect wolves to have as much individual differences- it wouldn’t be a good survival mechanism for pack animals.

Discussion of personality is a good segue into what really interests me when discussing wolves and dogs: intelligence. Terrill believes that dogs are the mentally retarded cousins of wolves, bred only to be blindly obedient and want only affection and care. After her experience with Panzer, I can understand her point of view. After all, who should we consider more intelligent, the wolf-dog who avoided the cars, or the dog who got hit and was killed? But I disagree with her train of thought. After all, dogs ride the subway in Russia (http://abcnews.go.com/International/Technology/stray-dogs-master-complex-moscow-subway-system/story?id=10145833) with no problems. So which is really the more intelligent- dogs or wolves? I guess the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. In the human world, dogs will come out on top; in the wild, a wolf is definitely more able to survive. Knowing this makes it all the more heart-wrenching when reading about Inyo, who doesn’t belong in either place. It supports the belief that the practice of purposefully breeding wolf-dogs should be put to a stop. It will not fix the issues that have cropped up in modern dogs, as Leda believes; only give rise to a breed who can’t survive in either world.

Part Wild

I am extremely intrigued by Part Wild so far. It’s interesting to read about domestication in this way. Up to this point in class, I’ve pictured domestication as some far, distant process that occurred thousands of years ago. I didn’t imagine the struggle and complications that must have been involved with taking wild animals and turning them into domesticated companions. Sure, we’ve mentioned that it was difficult, but I never really imagined it. But Part Wild definitely paints that picture. I understand that Terrill’s journey with Inyo is not the same process that our ancestors endured in order to domesticate wild animals, but it does show some of the struggles that a person would face as they introduced a wild (in this case part wild) animal into human civilization.  At times, I feel a deep sadness for Inyo. It’s clear she just doesn’t belong in a human world. It made me wonder how could ancient humans have pushed and pushed through this struggle for generation after generation in order to domesticate the wolf all those thousands of years ago? Especially without the modern technology like locks and electric fences. On the other hand, perhaps it was easier then, given that human society was not yet so highly developed. Thousands of years ago, newly domesticated dogs wouldn’t have to refrain from howling, tearing up linoleum, or digging up a flowerbed and face a city citation as Inyo had to. I mean, it’s clear how much easier it is for Terrill and Inyo out in the wilderness, far away from other people. It’s definitely a perplexing thought process to try and imagine exactly how domestication took place.

Aside from my thoughts on dog domestication, I have to admit that I thought about cats very often while reading Part Wild. I know, that probably goes against every intent that ultra dog-lover Ceiridwen Terrill had in mind when she wrote the book, but just like Inyo, I can’t help my nature. I’m a cat person, plain and simple. Don’t get me wrong, I do really like dogs as well, but deep down, I’ll always just be a cat person. Despite my interest in cats, I know about as little about the domestication of cats as I do about the domestication of dogs, which is very, very little. But just based on the reading and personal experience, I think I can see some major differences. At one point, Part Wild enters a discussion about the intelligence of wolves vs dogs. Are wolves smarter because they can more easily fend for themselves, communicate with other dogs, and overall adapt to the wild? Terrill offers a somewhat half hearted rebuttal to the argument by saying that dogs would be considered smarter if we judged them on their ability to fit into human society. Well in my opinion, this is complete rubbish. And I know, it’s only my opinion, but it seems to me that dogs have simply been dumbed down to the point of only existing with permission of humans. Struggling to live independently does not equal smart in my book. It seems that Inyo, even only part wolf, is MUCH smarter than all dogs she encounters. Just look at how she can easily escape any enclosure, find her own food, and avoid dangers such as snake bites and traffic. That, to me, makes her highly intelligent. Now it could just be the biased cat person in me, but in this comparison I believe that cats seem more similar to wolves than dogs. They’re unwillingness to be trained by humans gives them an independence which seems to me to translate to intelligence. For example, my cat, who is now going on two years old, hasn’t been outside since she was a kitten. But I’m almost positive that if I released her into the wild, she could survive. At least for a while. But would say, a Chihuahua, survive? I really don’t think so. Even though she hasn’t been outside for over a year and a half, my cat still can jump 3 feet in the air and grasp a moth between her paws, she still jumps to the top of a 5 foot shelf to try to reach our hamster in its cage almost every day, and she still sits by the window and cackles loudly, wide-eyed, at every passing bird. She seems to have held on to her wild instincts, something that I think many dogs have lost. Terrill constantly discusses the way that dog food brands appeal to the wolf ancestors of the dog, when in reality most domesticated dogs lost that part of them long ago. But why does cat food never appeal to the “wild cat inside your house cat” when it seems to me that the wild side is still much more present than it is in dogs? But I’m no expert, and once again, these are most likely the biased musing of a cat lover.