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Archive for April, 2009

Burned dogs believed part of fighting ring

The two dogs that were set on fire in Dallas, and burned so badly that they had to be euthanized, apparently were part of a dogfighting operation.

Dallas police say they’ve arrested two 17-year-olds in connection with the April 4 incident.

Some of the seven other dogs seized from the property of one of them, Lefferido Sudds, had injuries that a veterinarian said were consistent with dog fighting. Those dogs’ injuries were so severe that they, too, were euthanized.

Sudds and Jucorey Davis are facing animal cruelty charges, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Harvard is looking for a few smart dogs

To better understand the human mind, scientists ar Harvard University are looking to dogs.

Through a newly established Canine Cognition Lab, researchers hope to learn whether domestication has led to dogs that think and act more like their masters, or whether that’s all in our heads.

“Here’s this species we live with. Everyone has their views about how smart they are. No doubt we are overinterpreting – and in some cases underinterpreting,” said Marc Hauser, a Harvard professor who has long studied cognition in cottontop tamarin monkeys and who heads the new lab. “To what extent is an animal that’s really been bred to be with humans capable of some of the same psychological mechanisms?”

Hauser is recruiting both purebreds and mutts and running them through simple tests aimed at determining, for example, whether they understand such abstract concepts as “same,” according to a recent Boston Globe article.

The new Harvard lab represents a turnaround in the scientific community, which has long looked primarily toward chimps for clues to human behavior.

“Psychologists have been ignoring animals that were sleeping quietly at their feet while they were doing work on rats and pigeons,” said Clive Wynne, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who also studies pets. “Darwin wrote about his dog … We couldn’t bring ourselves to take them seriously.”

In one of the tests at Harvard, researchers tried to determine whether dogs can use pictures as signs to figure out which bucket contains food. They presented Celia, a German shepherd, with a choice between a bucket marked with a picture of steak and one marked with a pair of pliers. Celia picked the steak.

Katie Levesque, Celia’s owner, said she tries to give her dog challenging tasks at home but was surprised that her dog picked pictures of food three times, also choosing a hot dog over a hammer, and three biscuits over one.

“I was kind of laughing,” said Levesque, who sat in a corner of the room with Celia at her feet during the experiment. Owners can also watch their dogs from behind a one-way mirror. Only about 20 dogs have been tested, so it’s too early to draw conclusions about dogs’ comprehension of pictures.

The Canine Cognition Lab is recruiting dogs. Check its website for more information.

She knows Bo: Meet the First Dog trainer

Before he showed up at the White House, Bo Obama was kept under wraps at the rural Virginia home of Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, a veteran dog trainer who says she has been deluged with attention and clients since word got out she was Bo’s trainer.

After being glowingly profiled in USA Today yesterday, chances are there’s only more of that ahead.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz declined to say anything about her work with Bo or her contacts with the Obamas — apparently she’s a firm believer in dog trainer-client confidentiality — but she did note that she has been besieged by dog lovers, the media and bloggers.

“It’s a little crazy, a little surreal,” she said. Even though she has been training pets for rich, famous or otherwise high-profile clients for years, Sylvia-Stasiewicz says she’s never had a reaction like Bo brought. Sylvia-Stasiewicz, who left DC five years ago for 5 acres in rural Fauquier County, has also worked with Ted Kennedy’s dogs, and one belonging to the mother of actress Sandra Bullock.

A housewife and mother of three who once took part in showing dogs as a hobby, including a Portuguese water dog, Syliva-Stasiewicz, half Portuguese herself, turned to training dogs as a career after a divorce. She’s the owner and founder of Merit Puppy Training, and a proponent of positive-reinforcement, which rejects chokers and harsh corrections and relies on rewards.

She says her newfound fame won’t effect the way she does business, other than possibly leading her to add more clients and classes. Thanks to Obama, it seems, Sylvia-Stasiewicz got her stimulus package.

(Photo: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Who’s that dog in the ohmidog! “O”?

If this is your dog in the ohmidog! “O,” submit a comment on this entry and you’ll win a free FURminator.

The pooch above was one of several whose owners visited the ohmidog! booth at the Maryland SPCA’s March for the Animals earlier this month.

NYC bans pits, large dogs from public housing

New York’s Housing Authority has managed to discriminate against dogs and poor people — all in one vast, over-reaching swoop.

Effective today, pit bulls, Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers are banned from all city housing projects. 

“Finally someone is realizing that these potentially dangerous animals have no place in a confined urban space,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens), who has unsuccessfully lobbied state legislators to ban the dogs.

The new Housing Authority regulations also bar residents from owning any dog over 25 pounds; previously the limit was 40 pounds. (Housing Authority residents who already have the breeds will be able to keep them as long as they register by today.)

City housing officials said residents urged them to ban the dogs because they are vicious and threatening, the New York Daily News reports. But dog lovers who have pit bulls and the other targeted pooches are upset.

“He’s my baby,” Jose Hernandez, 32, who lives in the Lillian Wald Houses on the lower East Side, said of his 6-year-old pit bull, Chopper. “These are not bad dogs.”

The ASPCA and other groups opposed to the ban have been working with the city housing agency to ease some of the restrictions. “We are opposed to breed-specific bans,” said Michelle Villagomez, ASPCA senior manager of advocacy and campaigns. “And we find the weight restriction is too oppressive.”

Scoopen ze poop: Berlin campaign uses humor

A citizens group in Germany is fighting Berlin’s ongoing problem of uncollected dog poop with, of all things, humor.

Instead of pointing fingers at owners who don’t pick up after their dogs, surreptitiously photographing them, engaging in shouting matches and confrontations, or fining them $1,000 (aka the Baltimore way), Sandra Kaliga and her neighbors decided to go for the funny bone.

She and her friends now regularly hit the streets of Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district — under the auspices of their organization, Shit Happens — to place tiny flags featuring funny quips atop uncollected piles.

“Only humor is effective,” said Kaliga, a dog owner.

Shit Happens has 15 different flag slogans that they hope will alert innocent pedestrians and remind dog owners to clean up after their pets. “Well formed!” reads one. “100 grammes, just €1.99,” says another.

So far reaction in the neighborhood has been positive, according to an article in “The Local,” an English-language news website in Germany.

“Most people find it funny,” Shit Happens member Sabina Ruminski said. “But we also get some dim-witted commentary, which mostly comes from dog owners who feel like they’ve been caught.” Other dog owners rush to clean up poop when they see the group headed their way, members said.

According to the Berlin Animal Protection Agency, the city is home to more than 107,000 pooches, producing an estimated 30 million pounds of poop a year. Some dog owners in Germany, because they are required to pay a “dog tax” each year, reportedly feel that should absolve them of having to clean up after their pets.

Shit Happens members say they sympathize with Berlin dog owners, who are often forced to carry plastic bags of poop for long distances due to a lack of waste receptacles – a problem the group suggests be solved with dog tax money.

In the meantime, Shit Happens is filling tiny flag orders for communities outside Berlin and is creating new “Danke” flags to hand pet owners they spot doing their part to keep the streets clean.

(Photo from Shit Happens … “Haufen,” I think, means pile, but I don’t know what “Herrchen” means. Maybe some our readers in Germany can help us out.)

Scientists announce fluorescent dog clones

South Korean scientists have finally announced what they pulled off almost 18 months ago — the births of four cloned beagles that glow red under ultraviolet light.

All named  “Ruppy” — a combination of the words “ruby” and “puppy” — the dogs are pups no more, as you can see in a photo I took in February during my visit to Seoul National University, where Snuppy, the world’s first dog clone, was born in 2005.

Seoul National University professor Lee Byeong-chun, head of the research team, says they are the world’s first transgenic cloned dogs.

The fluorescence serves no purpose — other than letting the scientists know that the modified genes they inserted during the cloning process were successfully transferred.

“What’s significant in this work is not the dogs expressing red colors but that we planted genes into them,” Lee told the Associated Press Tuesday.

Successfully cloning dogs with flourescent genes paves the way to implanting disease-related genes into dogs, which will allow scientists to study and develop cures for human diseases.

The achievement was first publicized earlier this month in a paper on the website of the journal “Genesis.”

The fluorescence is noticeable, even when the dogs aren’t under ultraviolet light. The Ruppy I met and photographed had pinkish skin around his nose, and pink claws.

Scientists in the U.S., Japan and in Europe have cloned fluorescent mice and pigs, but SNU’s achievement is the first time dogs with modified genes have been cloned successfully, Lee said.

He said his team took skin cells from a beagle, inserted fluorescent genes into them and put them into enucleated eggs cells from a surrogate mother dog. Those were implanted into the womb of the surrogate mother, a local mixed breed. Six cloned flourescent female beagles were born in December 2007, two of which died.

Lee said his team has already started to implant human disease-related genes during the cloning process, in hopes they will be able to discover treatments for genetic diseases such as Parkinson’s.