When it Comes to Stress, Humans and Dogs Are More in Sync Than You Think

cat and dog sleeping together
Every dog owner feels a special bond with his or her four-legged friend.

However, a new study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior reveals that this bond goes much deeper than we think — in fact, the connection between humans and dogs actually exists on a hormonal level.

According to a June 9 Fox News article, the study found that participating in competitive dog trials resulted in elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of both dog handlers and the dogs themselves. Interestingly enough, teams of dogs paired with men showed higher levels of cortisol in their saliva.

This isn’t the first time science has proven the bond that humans have with dogs is more than puppy love. Prior studies have shown that puppy owners with increased levels of oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” influence a boost in the oxytocin production of their pets.

It’s proof that dogs experience a broad spectrum of emotions that are influenced by those of their owners. And while dogs do get lonely and stressed, a mere 20-minute walk, during which your dog can socialize with you and others she meets on the street, can significantly boost her mood.

In Charlotte, NC, dogs are actually helping travelers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport de-stress during long layovers and hectic transfers.

According to the Charlotte Observer, dogs with the CLT Canine Crew are now roaming the airport’s main terminal, outfitted in vests that say “PET ME” in large yellow letters. The program currently has eight certified therapy dogs, each with his or her own handler. The handlers are available to give travelers directions to their next destination, and all the dogs are non-barkers.

Some of the dogs in the CLT Canine Crew are rescue animals, like Rosco, an American Foxhound who also visits nursing homes. Sweetpea is a retired racing Greyhound. Each dog’s job is to welcome travelers, interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle explained.

Given the fact that the program doesn’t cost the airport any money, there’s no denying the benefits and calming effects the CLT Canine Crew has for the airport’s millions of stressed, tired travelers.

Study Establishes Link Between Low T and Low Bone Density

testosterone2

A new study conducted by medical researchers from the Albany Medical Center in New York found that men with low testosterone have a high incidence of osteopenia, which in turn can significantly increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.

PR Newswire and Medscape report that Dr. Joseph Ellen, MD, and his team of researchers presented their findings at the American Urological Association (AUA) 2015 Annual Meeting in New Orleans last month. The doctors found that in addition to the link between osteopenia and low testosterone (otherwise known as “low T” or hypogonadism), men who put off treatment are at greater risk of developing the bone disease.

“Low testosterone is one of the more established risk factors for osteoporosis in men,” Dr. Ellen said. “We were surprised that we found such a high incidence of osteopenia and osteoporosis in our clinic, especially because the average age of the men was only about 50 years.”

The men who participated in the study all had clinical and biochemical hypogonadism. Medically speaking, that is defined as having a testosterone level lower than 300 ng/dL. The participants underwent dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) bone scans.

The mean age of the men in the study was 50.7 years. Of the 235 men who participated, 56% had normal bone mineral density levels, 39% had osteopenia, and 5% had osteoporosis.

“In our clinic, if a man has a testosterone of below 300 ng/dL, especially if he has risk factors for low BMD [bone mineral density] — including smoking, long-term steroid use, and diabetes — we think it’s worthwhile to get a bone scan,” Dr. Ellen said.

Though Dr. Ellen maintains that it is critical for men to find out if they have osteopenia, he acknowledges that osteoporosis in men is still not fully understood. “There is no good prospective study to determine what the best treatment is,” he added.

In general, diagnosing low testosterone is difficult, considering the disease is based on several factors, some of which ostensibly appear to be products of aging. Testosterone levels in men, for example, tend to naturally peak around age 30 and subsequently decrease by 1-2% every year.

IRS: Hackers Accessed Data of 100,000 Taxpayers, Stole $39 Million

Hands typing on the laptop
Cyber thieves were able to steal as much as $39 million by gaining access to Internal Revenue Service data and filing fraudulent tax returns this year, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen reported to Congress June 2 after news about the data breach broke last week. The hackers were able to steal the personal finance information of over 100,000 taxpayers.“Commissioner Koskinen, put simply, your agency has failed these taxpayers,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told him Tuesday. Hatch, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, called the hearing; the FBI has also opened an investigation into the breach.

Electronic fraud detection programs used by the IRS were able to prevent the criminals, thought to be Russian, from filing around 23,500 returns. But the 13,000 they were successful in filing enabled them to get about $39 million in tax refunds.

The IRS has pledged to contact all the affected taxpayers and help them to secure their personal information. “For now, our biggest concern is for the affected taxpayers, to make sure they are protected against fraud in the future,” Koskinen explained.

IRS Failed to Update Security
But adding to questions of potential IRS negligence in the matter are reports that the tax agency had failed to upgrade its security systems prior to the attacks — despite knowing that dozens of updates were needed.

Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George told lawmakers that as of March, 44 updates that had been deemed necessary through a security audit had not been completed. Of those, 10 had first been recommended more than three years ago.

And according to the Associated Press, the Government Accountability Office issued a March report showing more than 50 unresolved gaps in the agency’s cybersecurity system, concluding that without resolving the weaknesses, “financial and taxpayer data will remain unnecessarily vulnerable to inappropriate and undetected use, modification or disclosure.”

Would taking appropriate security steps have prevented the breach? George said that while it’s impossible to know for sure, “it would have been much more difficult had [the IRS] implemented all of the recommendations that we made.”

“People need to make sure they file their 1040 as early as possible,” said Christina Klein, owner of Klein Hall CPAs. “Those who file fraudulent tax returns can only do so if an individual hasn’t already filed their original return, because the IRS can only accept one return per social security number. All fraudulent returns we see exist because the individual  waited until late March or early April to file. Other advice would be to follow all normal identity theft prevention protocols.”

Why Does This Wisconsin City Need Street Sweeping Services So Badly?

wire brush street cleaner working after a vehicle crash
Janesville, WI, drivers may honk at the street sweepers going up and down local roads, but some residents say that without this service, things would be a lot worse.

Roughly six times per year, the city of Janesville sends its street sweeping trucks out to clear debris from roadways.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, around 200 municipalities — Janesville being one of them — are required to use street sweepers. Cities with 10,000 or more residents have to determine when and how often they do so.

For Janesville, street sweeping season happens from April to November.

The city’s stormwater engineer, Tim Whittaker, said that the process is necessary in order to avoid problems with the city’s infrastructure, which can be costly.

If pollutants get into local waterways, he said, “a lot of nutrients — phosphorous, nitrogen, suspended solids, dirt — that washes through the system… can have an impact on the water habitat for aquatic species.”

Sweeper trucks not only handle city streets, but also parking lots in order to keep all pavement surfaces clean. One study estimates that each parking space in the United States costs anywhere from $6 to $23 in environmental damages to society, so every little bit of cleaning can help.

For those who power Janesville’s street sweepers, it’s worth it, despite the honks from stressed out drivers.

Tracy Engstrom, who trains new drivers on the city’s machines, said that the vehicles top out around 19 mph, but while working she’s usually only traveling about one-fifth that speed. At that rate, an eight-hour shift usually only covers about 25 miles of roadways.

Most people in the area are appreciative of the work that she and other street sweeper drivers do.

Greg Peck, writing for the Gazette Xtra, wrote that street sweeping helps to clear the debris left from tree seeds, which take over his yard during this season. Among other issues, the seeds also clog storm drains, so when the sweepers come around, they help locals who don’t clear the elm seeds themselves.