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Ancient History

Scary dogs once roamed the Earth...

Not long ago, I found myself curious about the sorts of dogs that existed in prehistoric times (right around the time Joan Collins started appearing on TV), and I took myself over to the Scarsdale Library to do some research. 

I don't know if my new glasses made me look intellectual, but I was treated with great respect there...meaning, the librarian didn't automatically point me toward "The Big Book of Disney Princesses." Instead, I found a great read relating to dog evolution and discovered some incredible things. 

And for those of you who don't believe in evolution, I discovered this: The modern dog appeared fully-formed in 1974. He was perfectly groomed and wearing a leisure suit.

Modern dogs evolved from carnivorous animals called "canids" — not, as I previously thought, from werewolves. Apparently, there were also creatures called "Amphicyons," also known as 'bear-dogs.' I don't know if they were violent, but, let's face it, that name is not very promising. Still, we are talking about the combinedmintelligence of a dog and a bear, meaning this creature had the IQ of a Dutch Elm Tree. 

Basically, if one approached you, all you had to do was point and say, "Hey, look, there's an Australopithecus Man!" And when the "bear-dog" turned to check it out, you ran away.

Apparently, hyenas figure into the evolution of dogs, as well, not to mention humans at the same time — meaning, by last count, there were 14 of them in Congress alone. Still, the hyena is an important antecedent to your pup because he was the first dog-like creature to live on the ground and not in trees.

This was a good thing for these animals, of course, but not people. Meaning, once these beasts were on the ground and not in trees, this created a problem for cavemen. In other words, you could no longer tell your boss you were late because, 'A dog fell on me.'

The late Eocene period of 40 million years ago seems to be when the prototype for today's canine actually appeared. This creature is known to anthropologists as "Hesperocyon," to scientists as "the western dog" and, understandably, to the rest of the folks as "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."

This creature really does seem to prefigure the pup we all know and love so well. These animals were usually the size of foxes, but they had the inner-ear structure and sensitivity we now associate with dogs. This meant that they, too, couldn't stand the sound of Josh Groban. Also, these Hesperocyons lived in communities, not to mention they built schools and paid property taxes. All in all, they were a very advanced bunch.

A rather disturbing contemporary of this pup was the "Borophagine," also known as the "bone-crushing dog." They sound really frightening, but the worst thing they did was wear leather jackets. And if they had a problem with other dogs, it was almost always resolved with a dance-off. 

Time moved on quickly, as it usually does (unless you're watching that most recent "Twilight Saga" installment), and canines continued to evolve during the "Pliocene" epoch. I use the term "evolve" loosely. Canines tended to behave a bit better, but they still howled at the moon and made kissing sounds whenever female dogs walked by.

Interestingly enough, this period coincided with the first appearance (in North America) of the "plus-sized" wolves. This had a pretty sobering effect on early dogs, who were polite to the point of obsequiousness around these beasts. If not, the wolves would simply eat the dogs, both making their point and growing even more plus-sized.

Eventually, dogs became domesticated and evolved into the popular house pets we know today. They've really evolved tremendously from the old days. They wear sweaters, sleep in crates and are basically members of the family. Yes, they do like to watch a few too many "Twilight Saga" movies, so some people might consider that sort of a de-evolution. But as with most things, you take the good with the bad. 

This will be my last Happy Monday column. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did writing them. Best, Peter Gerstenzang

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