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10 Wrinkly Facts About the Shar-Pei

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iStock

Is that a dog or a pile of towels? This melty-looking pup is certainly one of a kind, and has an interesting history to match. 

1. THEY WERE BRED IN CHINA.

As with many dog breeds, the true origin of the Shar-Pei is shrouded in mystery. Many believe that the dogs are an ancient breed, citing figurines from the Han Dynasty dating back to 200 BCE, which bear a striking resemblance to the wrinkled pooches we know today. Others counter that the figurines could just as easily be pugs or chow chows and mention that Marco Polo made no mention of them while traveling in China (he did write about the chow chow). 

The dog's original purpose is also a bit of a head-scratcher. Some suggest the breed was developed by royalty as guard dogs. Others say that peasants bred the dogs to hunt, herd, protect stock, and guard the home. A third group believes Shar-Pei were bred to fight; they were, in fact, used with some frequency in the pits until better fighting dogs, like mastiffs, were introduced. 

2. COMMUNISM NEARLY ENDED THE BREED. 

As the dogs were edged out of the fighting pits, breeding slowed and the Shar-Pei population dwindled. The breed took another hit when China became a communist country. The government decided that pets were a luxury item and instilled a hefty tax on owning one. Eventually, owning a dog became known as a "decadent bourgeois luxury" and dog breeding was banned altogether. In 1947 the tax skyrocketed. Since only the super wealthy could afford to keep their pooches, the Shar-Pei was nearly wiped out. From the late ‘60s to mid ‘70s, the Shar-Pei was listed by Guinness World Records as the rarest dog breed in the world.

3. ONE MAN SAVED THEM. 

Matgo Law, owner of Down-Home Kennels, bred and raised Shar-Pei. He resided in Hong Kong, which at the time was a British colony. Law feared that Hong Kong would rejoin China and fall victim to the country's harsh anti-dog restrictions. He sent out a plea to the world to save the breed before it was wiped out entirely. "Who knows?" Law wrote in his plea. "If we can ship some of our dogs to your country they may some day become as popular as the Pekingnese or Chow Chow. We can only hope."

Many people responded to the breeder’s plea, including the magazine LIFE. In 1979, the magazine ran an article about the dog and featured one on the cover. Suddenly, everyone wanted their own wrinkled pup. The rare dogs were bred in the United States and today they are the 57th most popular breed in the country. 

4. THEY HAVE UNIQUE TONGUES. 

Shar-Pei can have either a lavender or blue-black tongue. The only other dog to sport a black tongue is the chow chow. According to Chinese folklore, the fearsome black tongues ward off evil spirits

5. THE CUTE WRINKLES SERVED A DARK PURPOSE.

Since these dogs were probably used for fighting and guarding homes, they needed to be tough. While not as strong as other breeds, they had a strategic edge—their wrinkled skin. Thanks to their loose folds, if an attacker bit a Shar-Pei, its mouth would be filled with skin and, the theory went, miss vital organs. (The loose skin could also give a dog under attack some room to swing around and bite back.) In addition, the dogs have curved teeth, capable of hooking into an enemy’s skin, and plenty of stamina to keep up with competitors in the pit.   

6.  THEIR NAME REFERS TO THEIR FUR.

When the breed was being perfected, the rough fur was added as a means of protection. The bristly texture would create an unpleasant sensation in an enemy’s mouth as they bit down, thus making their grip (hopefully) weaker. The name Shar-Pei means sand skin, because their coat looks and feels like sandpaper.

7. THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT KINDS.

There are two distinct types of Shar-Pei to choose from, both with equally fearsome (or silly, depending on your perspective) names: "bone mouths" and "meat mouths." Both terms refer to the shape and muscles of the muzzle. Snouts with less padding are typically called bone mouths, while dogs with heftier muzzles are called meat mouths. The latter is generally more popular, and you can see that most dogs in the breed have thick muzzles as a result. 

8. THEIR SHORT SNOUTS CAN LEAD TO TROUBLE. 

Shar-Pei have slightly pushed in snouts, which is endearing but can cause health problems. Breathing can be a little difficult for the dogs, so they have trouble running long distances, tend to snore, and get overheated easily. 

9. THE PLURAL OF SHAR-PEI IS STILL JUST SHAR-PEI.

According to the Chinese Shar Pei Club of America, the name of the dog is always just Shar-Pei, no matter how many you’re referring to [PDF].

10. THEY COME IN A VARIETY OF COLORS 

According to the American Kennel Club, Shar-Pei come in 21 different colors, including interesting shades like five point red, blue sable, and red fawn. 

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Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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Bristly
A New Chew Toy Will Help Your Dog Brush Its Own Teeth
Bristly
Bristly

Few pet owners are willing to sit down and brush their pet's teeth on a regular basis. (Most of us can barely convince ourselves to floss our own teeth, after all.) Even fewer pets are willing to sit calmly and let it happen. But pet dental care matters: I’ve personally spent more than $1000 in the last few years dealing with the fact that my cat’s teeth are rotting out of her head.

For dog owners struggling to brush poor Fido’s teeth, there’s a slightly better option. Bristly, a product currently being funded on Kickstarter, is a chew toy that acts as a toothbrush. The rubber stick, which can be slathered with doggie toothpaste, is outfitted with bristles that brush your dog’s teeth as it plays.

A French bulldog chews on a Bristly toy.
Bristly

Designed so your dog can use it without you lifting a finger, it’s shaped like a little pogo stick, with a flattened base that allows dogs to stabilize it with their paws as they hack at the bristled stick with their teeth. The bristles are coated in a meat flavoring to encourage dogs to chew.

An estimated 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have some kind of dental disease, so the chances that your dog could use some extra dental attention is very high. In addition to staving off expensive vet bills, brushing your dog's teeth can improve their smelly breath.

Bristly comes in three sizes as well as in a heavy-duty version made for dogs who are prone to ripping through anything they can get their jaws around. A Bristly stick costs $29 and is scheduled to start shipping in October. Get it here.

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