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Archive for February, 2009

Talking terrier a hit in Germany

A two-year-old bull terrier named Armani has become a celebrity in Germany for his ability to say the word “mama,” The UK’s Telegraph reports.

Armani has become the number-one downloaded video in Germany, and the star is now making the rounds on the radio and receiving fan mail, which he responds to with photos personally stamped with a paw print, the newspaper said.

Closely watched Crufts show starts next week

The London Times reports that judges at the prestigious but beleaguered Crufts dog show next week will be keeping a sharp eye out for any unhealthy animals as part of a campaign by Britain’s Kennel Club to lift the show’s tarnished image.

The club was badly damaged when the BBC One documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” was broadcast last summer, followed by the network’s decision to scrap its coverage of the show after 42 years. The program was critical of club breeding standards that it said created dogs with diseases and deformities.

The club has since issued new breed standards that place more of a priority on health, less on appearance, and it has enlisted a team of vets and monitors to be on the lookout during the show for breeds deemed to be at risk from health problems, including the basset hound, bulldog, mastiff, pug and shar-pei.

Judges, meanwhile, have been told to ban dogs if they shows signs of sickness, lameness, shortness of breath or aggression.

“We all think dog shows are under threat,” said Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club. “There is a view among some animal welfare groups like the RSPCA that dog shows are bad … We have to get across that showing dogs is about improving the health of dogs and ensuring they have a good temperament.”

Kisko said Passionate Productions, which made the documentary, won’t be given a press pass to the event. “We see Crufts as a big celebration of dogs and we don’t want them there spoiling our day — and I don’t think breed people would be pleased to see them there.”

The show opens next Thursday, and the Kennel Club is expecting about 160,000 visitors to see 28,000 dogs over the four days.

While it won’t be aired on BBC, Crufts will be shown on a live webcast at www.cruftslive.tv.

Pit bull shot in Anne Arundel County park

Anne Arundel County police are investigating the fatal shooting of a pit bull terrier at a park in Odenton.

An off-duty officer was flagged down at Patuxent Ponds Park around 6 p.m. Wednesday by two people who reported they heard three gunshots and a dog yelping.

They said the shots were fired not long after they saw a man walking a female pit bull terrier down a trail, police said. After seeing the man leave the park, alone, in a small, red vehicle, the two people found the body of the dog.

Police say the man was seen leaving in a small red car that was heading north on Patuxent Road.

Police describe the man as white, in his mid-20s, wearing a black hat, blue jeans. He ws carrying a dark-colored book bag. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the Anne Arundel County police department’s Western District at 410-222-6155.

Police have been able to identify the dogs owner through a microchip implanted in the dog, and are seeking to interview him, WJZ-TV reported.

Dogs bear witness as QB weds supermodel

As her three dogs looked on, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen tied the knot with quarterback Tom Brady Thursday before a small crowd at a Catholic church in Santa Monica, Calif.

The bride, 28, donned a form-fitting ivory lace strapless gown with a trumpet skirt, scalloped edges, long train and a floor-length veil with attached handmade satin roses and attached satin headband, all by Dolce & Gabbana, Usmagazine.com reports. 

Her three dogs also wore matching Dolce & Gabbana floral lace collars.

The Brazilian-born supermodel has been dating the New England Patriots quarterback, 31, since 2006.

The couple purchased an $11.7 million plot of land in a gated community in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles late last year.

U of Michigan won’t use dogs to train surgeons

Surgeons training at the University of Michigan will no longer use live, healthy dogs to learn drastic surgical procedures, the university announced Thursday.

The anesthetized animals — obtained from shelters — were used to teach tracheotomies, how to fix collapsed lungs, and other emergency procedures. After the procedures, they were commonly euthanized, the Detroit Free Press reported today.

The Free Press reported in January that only a handful of medical centers in the country offering such training using live animals.

In a statement, the U-M Health System said its Graduate Medical Education Committee reviewed simulators and decided to make the switch to mannequins for the class.

“It’s tremendous. All we really wanted them to do was look at it objectively and make a decision. Other schools have done that,” said Dr. John Pippen, senior medical and research adviser for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national animal-welfare group based in Washington.

His group filed a complaint against the university in January with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming Dr. Richard Burney, the surgeon who runs the Advanced Trauma and Life Support class, made false statements about the utility of simulators to justify using animals to the university’s animal-care committee. Burney, who raises show dogs, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But he has defended the use of animals over simulators as a more realistic training tool.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show dogs surrendered to animal control in one county were sold to U-M through an animal dealer.

Quiet please … cloning in progress


Getting a laboratory tour is usually a pretty sterile and boring affair: “Here’s the machine that does this. Here’s the room where we do that. But we’re not doing this or that right now.”

So when I walked into the Sooam Biotech Foundation, headed by the controversial Dr.  Hwang Woo-Suk, I wasn’t expecting much more than a quick walk through.

Dr. Hwang — who was fired from Seoul National University on grounds that his research into cloning human embryonic stem cells was fraudulent — wouldn’t be talking to me, I’d been informed. He hasn’t granted any interviews since he left SNU and, with funding from friends and supporters, started his own institute to continue his research.

Given the disclaimers, and my own low expectations, I couldn’t figure out what the hurry was when, after being picked up at the bus station in Yongin, foundation staff rushed me up a winding mountain road and into the driveway of the remote laboratory about 40 miles south of Seoul, outfitted me in a sterile lab gown, surgical mask and headgear and walked me into an operating room where a sedated dog lay on her back with her legs spread open.

It wasn’t until a man in a mask cut a three-inch incision into the dog’s groin and slipped his hand inside that I realized I was witnessing the attempted cloning of a dog, performed Dr. Hwang himself — a process that, from start to finish, would take under three hours.

Hwang was silent and focused as deftly pulled out the uterus, found the ovaries, flushed out the egg cells, and handed them off to a technician who placed them under a microscope and reported they had succesfully removed seven. Hwang replaced the uterus, sewed up the dog, and then opened a second dog that was already sedated and waiting on a gurney. He repeated the process, which only took about 20 minutes.

From there the egg cells were taken to another room, where, using a micromanipulator, another member of the laboratory staff carefully vacuumed out the nucleus of each. Then, using a pipette, she implanted seven handpicked cells from the donor dog — one of six whose owners successfully bid in an online auction to get their dogs cloned through an American company, Bio Arts International. Bio Arts is working in conjunction with Hwang’s lab.

The cells were then put into another machine, which zapped them with electricity to stimulate division. About an hour later, all seven were ready to be implanted into a surrogate dog, an operation, also conducted by Hwang, that took less than half an hour.

And so it goes at Sooam, where 79 dogs have been cloned since Hwang opened shop.

Hwang and Dr. Lee Byeong-Chun were the leaders of the Seoul National University research team that cloned the world’s first dog, producing Snuppy. Shortly after that success, Hwang was suspended from the university and charged with fraud in connection with his human embryo research.

SNU is now working with a Korean company, RNL Bio, that is offering dog cloning to the public. Hwang, meanwhile is working with California-based Bio Arts, which awarded five dog clonings to bidders in an auction last year, and is also cloning a dog for the winner of an essay contest it sponsored — a German shepherd named TrakR, who according to his owner, located the last survivor pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11.

The cloning attempt I witnessed — and whose DNA can be seen being implanted in the enucleated egg cell above — wasn’t that of TrakR, but it was one of the dogs being cloned for Bio Arts customers. So far, only one dog — a cloned yellow lab named Lancelot Encore — has been delivered.

If successful, the clone or clones resulting from the procedure I saw will be born in two months.

Maryland considers law permitting pet trusts

Maybe you’re no Leona Helmsley, and have no plans to leave your dog $12 million to assure he continue living in the luxurious manner to which he has become accustomed. 

Maybe you’re no Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress who, in addition to bequeathing large amounts to animal organizations in her will, left $100,000 in a trust for the care and feeding of her dog.

Maybe you’re not even a Dusty Springfield, the 60’s era British singer who specified in her will that, after her death, the friend caring for her cat, Nicholas, ensure that he sleep in a bed lined with her nightgown, that he be fed his favorite imported baby food, and that her recordings — You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, for example — be played each night at his bedtime.

That doesn’t mean that you might not want to look into making some sane and basic arrangements — even if it’s just an informal agreement with a good friend — in the event your pet outlives you.

About 500,000 animals are killed in shelters and veterinary offices each year after their owners die, according to a Consumer Reports article on pet trusts, originally published in 2007.

If you live in Maryland, though, establishing a pet trust hasn’t been an option. We’re one of 11 states with no legally binding way to ensure that a portion of an estate will be spent on an animals’ care. A bill to change that was approved by the House of Delegates yesterday and will now be considered by the Senate.

If it passes, Maryland would become one of 40 states, including Virginia, that allow residents to establish legal trusts for their pets.

Under the proposed law in Maryland, no more could be set aside than was needed to care for an animal and courts could overrule pet lovers who tried to leave millions to their pets and order that the money be given to other heirs.

Under current Maryland law, residents can name a caretaker for their pets in their wills and ask that a sum of money be set aside for the pets’ care. But if the designated caretaker proves unable or unwilling to care for their pets, there is no guarantee that the deceased’s wishes will be followed. Under the legislation, a court would enforce the terms of the trust, requiring that the money set aside go only to care for designated animals, according to a Washington Post article.

“The states and courts should recognize that there’s an important human-animal bond,” said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, which has pushed for such legislation nationwide. “People want the peace of mind of knowing that their pets will be cared for.”

The bill is being sponsored by two professed animal lovers: Del. A. Wade Kach (R-Baltimore County), who has two cats, and Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. (D-Baltimore County), who owns a 2-year-old border collie-chow mix.

“You work hard for what you earn,” Olszewski said. “You should be able to decide how its spent after your death.”