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Could a DNA test prove dog’s innocence?

Up to now, DNA testing on dogs has been used mostly to satisfy owner curiosity over what breeds are in their mutt, or by apartment managers who want to identify dogs whose owners didn’t pick up after them.

Now comes a chance to put it to more noble use. (Cue up the “Law & Order” theme.)

jebThe owners of a Belgian Malinois accused of killing a neighbor dog say a DNA test could clear their dog of a murder rap.

A district judge in Michigan ordered Jeb, the Belgian Malinois, to be euthanized after hearing the evidence against him on Sept. 19.

But Jeb’s owners, Pam and Kenneth Job, have filed a motion for DNA testing to be conducted on the dead dog, a Pomeranian named Vlad.

Vlad died Aug. 24, and his owner, St. Clair resident Christopher Sawa, says he saw Jeb standing over his dog’s body. Both dogs were inside his backyard.

St. Clair County Animal Control took possession of Jeb after that.

Vlad was found with severe bruising over both shoulders and a puncture wound on his right front leg. There was another deep wound found on his left side that penetrated his chest and broke two ribs, the Detroit Free Press reported.

vladThe veterinarian who examined Vlad said his injuries were consistent with being picked up and shaken by a larger animal.

Ed Marshall, the lawyer for the Jobs, is asking the judge to allow them time to have an independent lab test conducted on Vlad’s body — to see if traces of Jeb’s DNA can be found in his wounds.

A hearing on his motion is set for Monday.

The Jobs say Jeb is an unofficial service dog who helps Kenneth with a condition that causes his muscles to deteriorate.

They say Jeb is a gentle soul and that Vlad’s death could have been caused by a fox or coyote, both of which can be seen from time to time in the rural area in which they live.

How many ways can we say helper?

new-yorker-dog-cartoon

Ahhh, words. They can be almost as fun to play with as dogs — and that’s just the beginning of what words and dogs have in common.

Words, like dogs, can be used to befriend, repel or attack, depending on the person behind them. Both can inform us, frustrate us, console, entertain and enthrall us. Words, like dogs, can bite or soothe. Both need to be used responsibly.

And, given we humans created both of them, it is up to us to safeguard them and, once in a while, stand up for them — as in, for example, when they are being abused.

Generally, both words and dogs are at their best when they are unrestrained.

And yet sometimes they need to be restrained.

And yet too much restraint can make them dull and lifeless, sucking out all their natural spirit and joy.

It’s not this week’s presidential debate that’s sending me off on this wordy tangent. It’s the word “facility,” and the growing use of the term “facility dog.”

In a post last week, I lauded the University of Southern California’s decision to add a “facility dog” to the staff of its student health center — but I poked a little fun at the term.

“Facility dog” is a cold, undescriptive and institutional-sounding label, in my view, that just doesn’t go with the goldendoodle’s playful given name, Professor Beauregard Tirebiter.

Beauregard is trained as a therapy dog. Calling him a “facility dog” — no matter the reason behind it — disguises that fact. Words are supposed to clarify, not obfuscate.

I don’t like the idea of labeling a dog based on the building in which he works, as opposed to the noble work he is doing.

But, most of all, I just don’t like the word “facility.”

USC didn’t come up with the term “facility dog;” it is being used increasingly to describe a dog — generally a therapy dog — that is based in a particular hospital, nursing home, school, prison, mental institution or other … well, facility.

emotionalIn journalism school, I was taught not to use the word “facility,” because its meaning is so vague and the mere sight of it tends to put people to sleep.

But it’s also, in its vagueness, a safe word — the kind bureaucracies like, not just for their political correctness, but because it lets them avoid plain talk, clarity and specificity.

“Facility dog is an official certification as designated by Canine Angels Service Teams,” reads a comment sent into ohmidog! from someone at USC’s health center, in response to the post.

“While his credential is ‘Facility Dog,’ the University of Southern California has given him the title ‘Wellness Dog’ as his intended purpose is to enhance the wellness of students on campus.

“He does not work in a therapy/counseling setting, but rather as a staff member in the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion. As such, he is not a pet and does not violate the USC policy referenced in the article.”

(I pointed out in my post that USC has a no-pets policy, only to suggest that maybe it’s time — given all dogs do for us, given “wellness” should be achieved campus-wide as opposed to just at the Student Health Center, given all dogs, in a way, are “wellness dogs” — to give those antiquated rules another look.)

I almost hate to say it, but I’m not too keen on “wellness dog,” either. It, too, is vague and touchy-feely and fails to describe the work Beau is doing.

But it’s a little better than “facility dog.”

“Facility dog” makes it sound like Beau is manning the boilers. “Wellness dog” makes it sound like he’s dispensing medication, taking blood pressure and giving nutritional advice.

Google the term “wellness dog” now and you get links mostly to the dog food that uses that name, or pet insurance companies only to happy to provide your dog a “wellness plan.”

But “wellness dog” will surely join the ranks of terms used to describe dogs that are trained to help us humans cope.

There are already enough of those terms to thoroughly confuse the public —
service dogs, assistance dogs, therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, comfort dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs and seizure dogs — and my personal favorite “companion animal.”

“Companion animal” is what we used to call a pet. As in:

“Hi, I’m John and this is my dog, Bowser. Do you mind if we use the facilities?”

“You are welcome here, just make sure your companion animal uses the fecal matter containment system.”

“You mean a poop bag?”

“We try not to use that term.”

The surplus of terminology for dogs who help us is first and foremost a reflection of just how incredibly much dogs help us — with disabilities, with illnesses that range from diabetes to epilepsy to PTSD, and with all the other obstacles, fears and anxieties that get in our way.

Those distinctions become important because different dogs, depending on their label, have different rights.

service-dog1Under the legal definition, service dogs are those trained to perform tasks for an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental disability.

A service animal is entitled to accompany that person anywhere members of the public are allowed.

Emotional support dogs, comfort dogs and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Assistance dog” is a catch all term to describe them all, and is not a legal category.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need all those distinctions — and any dog that is helping a person cope would be allowed to accompany that human to a restaurant, workplace, etc.

But, in an ideal world, the word “facility” wouldn’t exist, either.

Canine Angels, the outfit that provided Beauregard to the university, says on its website that it trains and provides service dogs, “social dogs” and “facility dogs.”

It defines facility dogs as those that “are placed with teachers and health care/rehabilitation professionals whose clients/students can benefit from the therapeutic qualities that a well-trained dog can offer. These dogs can provide emotional and unconditional support and can be used by their handlers to motivate and reward clients/students. Facility Dogs live with their handlers and are only allowed public access to the specific facility at which their handler is employed.”

Sometimes, those handlers are called … wait for it … facilitators.

I doubt that there is any significant difference between what a therapy dog is trained to do and what a facility dog is trained to do. Similarly, I’d go out on a limb and say a “wellness dog” and a therapy dog likely receive identical training.

Therapy dog is a perfectly fine term, and there’s no need to put a mask on it.

When a university decides it wants to have a writer on campus, allowing him or her to pursue their mission while their brilliance rubs off on the student body, they call him or her “writer-in-residence,” not “facility writer.”

Dogs deserve at least that much respect.

Man who drowned dog is ordered to keep pup’s photo in his wallet for two years

burrowA North Carolina judge imposed a lenient but lingering sentence on a Fort Bragg soldier who intentionally drowned his 8-month-old puppy.

Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons handed John Burrow a sentence of 30 days in jail and 100 hours of community service, cleaning the cages at Cumberland County Animal Control.

A light sentence — but one with a twist:

Ammons also ordered Burrow to keep a photo of the eight-month-old pup in his wallet for the next two years, while serving his probation, according to WTVD.

Police said Burrow, a paratrooper, used parachute cords to tie the legs of the pup, named Riley, and looped the rope around his muzzle before throwing him into MacFadyen Pond around Thanksgiving in 2014.

The dog’s body washed ashore on Jan. 2, 2015.

Yesterday’s sentencing followed a guilty plea by Burrow.

Investigators said Burrow told them the mixed lab-shepherd pup had run away from home several times, and he and his wife could not afford the veterinarian bill after the dog was hurt during a previous escape.

rileyBurrow and his wife, Kelsey, initially claimed the dog had run away when they were questioned by police after his body was discovered.

Kelsey Burrow told Cumberland County sheriff’s investigators then that Riley had stood on a privacy fence and opened the latch on the gate.

Investigators said she put false posts on Facebook saying Riley was suffering from organ failure, and told a friend in a Facebook message that the dog died while undergoing surgery.

Kelsey Burrow has been charged as an accomplice and is still awaiting sentencing.

In court Tuesday, John Burrow, 24, apologized, the Fayetteville Observer reported.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “so very sorry, and sorry to Riley. I did love Riley. I did love that dog. I have no excuse.”

As part of the plea arrangement, Burrow agreed not to own another animal during his probation period.

(Photos: WTVD and the Fayetteville Observer)

Man sees face of his dead dog in ham slice

ham

A UK man was gobsmacked to see his deceased dog’s image in a slice of ham.

You see it too, don’t you, there in the upper right quadrant?

George Hembry, 21, of Bath, told the British tabloids it’s the spitting image of his dog, Stink.

He saw the slice on the counter as his mother was making him a sandwich.

Hembry found an old photo of Stink and laid it next to the slice of Tesco British Crumbed ham. The resemblance freaked him out so much he refused to eat it.

stinkStink, a lurcher-whippet-collie mix died about a year ago. (A lurcher is a cross between a sighthound and another breed.)

Hembry said he had bought the meat himself, at a shop he and Stink used to frequent.

Adding to the strangeness of it all, he said, he and his mother, Sarah, had been talking about Stink earlier in the day.

“We’d been talking … about how much we missed him because an old photo memory popped up on my Facebook page,” he told the Daily Mail.

“It’s funny to think he’s maybe still looking over us somehow,” he is quoted as saying in The Mirror.

Hembry said he considered keeping the slice, but decided it would be unwise. “I suppose it would have gone off after a while.”

“I reckon mum’s probably eaten it,” he added, “but I couldn’t have done that.”

(Photos: Daily Mail)

One last snowfall for Spunky

Spunky always loved the snow.

But when the German shepherd-husky-chow mix and his owner moved from Wisconsin to Texas in 2008 that — with flakes being rare in Austin — became a thing of the past.

Ashley Niels, who works as a behavior and enrichment specialist at the Austin Animal Center, says she promised Spunky, who she’d adopted in Wisconsin, that he’d see snow again someday.

When she learned earlier this month that the 12-year-old dog was dying, and made the appointment for him to be put down, she regretted that promise would go unfulfilled.

ashleyandspunkyWhen she shared that regret with friends at the animal center, they got together to make it happen.

They rented a snow machine and brought to her home.

Last week, Spunky got his snow.

Niels sat in her front yard with Spunky and experienced one last snow storm — albeit an artificial one. He didn’t frolic in it, like he used to, but Niels thinks he enjoyed it.

“To be honest, he was like ‘I’m not really sure what this is.’ It wasn’t cold snow. I think he could see how excited I was, so he thought it was pretty cool,” Niels told Inside Edition Tuesday night.

“I think he felt all the love we were trying to show him.”

Spunky’s appointment with the vet the next day was canceled, and Niels hasn’t rescheduled it yet.

“As long as he’s happy, I don’t really want to take that from him,” she said. “It makes me happy to be able to spend more time with him.”

She adopted him from a local shelter in Wisconsin when he was a puppy. They lived there for four years before moving to Austin.

austinanimalcenterAfter creating the snowstorm for Spunky, animal center staff brought the snow machine back to the shelter to let a few more dogs experience a snowfall.

As of late last week Spunky was still hanging in there, according to Ashley’s Facebook page, and she was doing her best to not think about his death and savor the time together they had left.

“I try not to think about it because he’s my boy,” she said. “I get to spend this extra-special time with him.”

(Photos: Courtesy of Ashley Niels and Austin Animal Center)

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter joins USC staff — but let’s not call him a “facility dog”

beauregard2

The University of Southern California has added a new staff member at its student health center, and he’s already making people feel better.

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter is a black, two-year-old goldendoodle.

After witnessing the positive effects visiting therapy dogs had on students, university officials decided they should have one based in the student health center full time.

The addition of Beau to the staff makes USC one of the few universities in the United States with a full-time “facility dog” on staff, USC News reported.

We applaud the university for that — but not for the label “facility dog.”

Surely all the great minds at that institution could have come up with a better term than that.

As the university Office for Wellness and Health Promotion explained it,
“a facility dog is similar to a therapy dog, but rather than being trained to work periodically with individuals, he’s trained to work with a multitude of people on a regular basis in a facility such as a hospital, school or nursing home.”

Why not just call him what he is, a therapy dog? There should be no stigma attached to that, and no need to tiptoe around it. Everybody needs therapy, especially a student, particularly during finals.

Calling him a “facility dog” is pretty vague. Defining him by the building he works in, as opposed to his job/mission, is a little insulting, like the term “junkyard dog.”

And “facility” is so similar to “faculty” that some hastily compiled news reports are calling him the latter.

beauregard3Beau (and perhaps that’s the best thing to call him) is not officially a faculty member. Possibly he is teaching students more than many professors manage, but he is staff, not faculty.

Beau did come to campus with a curriculum vitae, though. He was trained at Canine Angels Service Teams in Oregon.

He has office hours, and his own business cards, and paw prints lead students to his location at the Engemann Student Health Center.

He was purchased with money from a donation by the Trojan League of Los Angeles, an alumni group, to promote student wellness.

Beau has been on campus for a few weeks now. He goes home at night with Amanda Vanni, his handler and a health promotion specialist at the center.

In hiring Beau, the university seems to be acknowledging all the research that shows dogs can help decrease stress, create a sense of calm and well being, and that contact with them can increase serotonin, beta-endorphin and oxytocin – chemicals and hormones that make people happy.

Paula Lee Swinford, director of the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, said Beau will also help create a sense of community at USC.

“We wanted to do something that would change our culture,” she said. “What Beau brings is a consistent relationship for students. … He will remember them.”

Speaking of culture change, the university might want to take another look at its antiquated policy that bans dogs from classrooms, university housing, offices and research areas because they can be “disruptive as well as unsanitary.”

(Photos by Gus Ruelas / USC)

A modern day Dr. Frankenstein?

A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.

We suggest they start with their own.

Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.

If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.

We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.

canaveroCanavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.

Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.

Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”

What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?

We’d say none.

Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.

He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.

He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.

Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.

His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.

In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.

South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.

It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.

In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.

Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?

Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.

But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.