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NY hotel owner charged with burning dogs

A hard-partying New York socialite and hotel owner was charged with animal torture this week, but offered no explanation in court for why he attempted to torch two small dogs.

His attorney blamed it on his client’s bipolar disorder.

Vikram Chatwal, 44, founder of the Dream Hotel Group, turned himself into police Tuesday — more than a week after a dog walker reported he had used a lighter and an aerosol can to set fire to the dogs she was walking.

The incident took place outside Chatwal’s SoHo condo.

The video above, obtained by TMZ, shows the aftermath. Chatwal can be seen apologizing to a group of people, and going so far as to invite him up to his apartment to see his art and his “water collection.”

Police had been called by that point, but they didn’t arrive until after Chatwal disappeared.

The dogs had their fur singed, but weren’t seriously injured.

chatwalChatwal is founder of The Dream Hotel Group, which includes the Dream, Time and Unscripted hotels. He has been in and out of rehab and is known for partying with the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen.

His bio says he is also a model, movie producer and actor and roles in the movies “Zoolander” and “Spring Breakers.”

Chatwal’s lawyer told CBS that Chatwal is a dog owner, and owns six himself.

“The allegations today and the picture the prosecutor has tried to paint fly in the face of the reality of who Vikram Chatwal is,” said the lawyer, Arthur Aidala. “By all accounts, he is a peaceful, law-abiding, soft-spoken, animal-loving, dog-owning individual who is not some guy running around the street trying to injure little animals.”

Chatwal posted $50,000 bail Tuesday on charges of animal torture, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. He is due back in court Dec. 8.

The judge also issued an order of protection for the two dogs — Molly and Finnegan — their owner and their dog walker, the New York Daily News reported.

Assistant District Attorney Erin Satterthwaite said Chatwal was screaming, “The dogs must die!”

Chatwal’s attorney said his client was a lifetime animal lover who suffers from a bipolar disorder but would never harm an animal.

Witnesses say Chatwal was arguing with the dog walker and approached the two Jack Russell Terriers with a blow torch that he put together from an aerosol can and a lighter.

(Photo: Vikram Chatwal, Facebook)

Hotel manager saves dog from elevator

A hotel manager in South Carolina saved a small dog from being hung by its leash after the dog’s owner failed to make sure his dog was aboard the elevator before the doors closed.

A security camera captured the incident — and Ben Duke, general manager at the Roadway Inn in Greenville, posted it on his Facebook page and YouTube, with this description:

“Dog wandered off elevator. I happened to walk out at the right time and save the dogs life.”

Duke said he was coming out of a storage area just as the elevator doors closed and saw a guest’s small dog being dragged by its leash as the elevator car went up.

“The doors closed, and I guess he didn’t realize that his dog had wandered off,” Duke told WYFF.

He managed to snap the leash just as the dog was pulled to the top of the elevator doors.

“I just grabbed it, and struggled with it, then I guess adrenaline set in or something, and I snapped the leash right above my hand,” Duke said.

He said the dog’s owner, who is a regular guest at the hotel, came back downstairs in tears and was grateful to find Boo Boo alive.

“I was just reacting and doing what I was supposed to do in that situation,” Duke said.

Duke said he was “blown away” when he watched what happen on the motel’s surveillance tape. He posted the video on his Facebook page, where it has been viewed more than 10,000 times and on YouTube, where it has been viewed close to 75,000 times.

A funny — and life-saving — thing happened on the way to the slaughterhouse

jindolThe four new arrivals at the Watauga Humane Society, a no-kill shelter nestled in the hills outside Boone, N.C., started adapting to their new lives not long after they were removed from a farm south of Seoul, Korea.

They continued to grow a little less timid and fearful of humans while they were quarantined in a sanctuary there, flown to the U.S., driven hundreds of miles to five different shelters and quarantined again.

Soon, they’ll be making the final step on the way to becoming pets, instead of meat.

twopartsThe four are among 31 dogs from Korea who arrived at no-kill shelters in North Carolina last week to be put up for adoption.

And those 31 are among 525 who have come to the U.S. and Canada since the beginning of last year, when Humane Society International added a new strategy to its campaign to bring an end to dog farms in Korea — closing them down one farm at a time.

Representatives of HSI, working with local animal activists in South Korea, have succeeded in shutting down five farms since then — usually by negotiating deals with the farmers and persuading them to pursue new, less brutal livelihoods.

One dog farm became a blueberry farm. Another switched from raising dogs to growing chili peppers. One dog farmer agreed to stop dog farming and, with help from HSI, started a water delivery business.

It’s only a small dent, given there are thousands of dog farms in South Korea, some with 1,000 dogs or more, all being raised to be sold for their meat.


They are commonly abused and neglected and spend their lives in crates before being sold to markets, where things get even crueler.

Farm dogs are sometimes boiled alive, sometimes beaten before slaughter under the belief that it makes their meat more flavorful. Their meat is sold to individuals and restaurants at open air markets, where you can pick a live one for butchering.

It’s all a perfectly legal tradition under laws in Korea, where a minority of the population still eats dogs, and many believe the meat offers health benefits, particularly in the summer months.

That minority is shrinking more as younger Koreans turn away from the practice, a fledgling animal welfare movement grows and the perception of dogs as family members becomes more widespread.

Perhaps, South Korea will, in time, outgrow the practice. Perhaps the Olympics coming to Seoul in 2018 — as it did in 1988 — will lead government officials, who did their best to hide it then, to take more meaningful steps.

Until then, animal activists — locally and globally — do what they can.

My first exposure to dog farms was seven years ago, when I went to South Korea to research a book I was writing on dog cloning. On the road to achieving that “feat,” researchers regularly bought and borrowed meat dogs from farms, using them for experiments, to help clone the first canine and to clone the dogs of pet-owning customers once the practice hit the marketplace.

I ended up at Moran Market — and quickly wished I hadn’t.

Images of what I saw then still pop up in my head, unasked. I’ll spare you the graphic details.


It is estimated that more than 2 million dogs are slaughtered for human consumption in South Korea each year.

Add in those consumed in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries, and as many as 30 million dogs a year are killed for their meat.

South Korea is the only country where the practice has been industrialized. The New York Times reported in May that government data show there are more than 17,000 dog farms.

The Humane Society program is an attempt to shine a light on the issue, while also giving at least a few of the dogs a chance. On top of that, it strives to show that farm dogs, stigmatized in Korea and often perceived as different from pet dogs, are one and the same.

In one of the largest agreements brokered so far, this past May, a dog farmer in Wonju turned over all 260 of the dogs he was raising — mostly on discarded scraps he collected from restaurants — in exchange for certain considerations.

The particulars of the deal weren’t announced, but HSI offers incentives to farmers — $2,000 to $60,000 depending on the number of dogs involved — who agree to forfeit their dogs and get out of the business.

That farmer, Gong In-young, told the New York Times that many of the dogs were just weeks away from being sent to the slaughterhouse.

Gong, in addition to his farm dogs, had a pet dog, too. Asked about the difference in the lives of his farm dogs and his own dog, a spitz named Snow White, he described it as “the difference between heaven and hell.”

The most recent batch of dogs transported to the U.S. by HSI was small by comparison.

The dogs lived on a small farm in Jeonju, about 120 miles south of Seoul. A Canadian organization, Free Korean Dogs, was tipped off about it by local activists and, upon further investigation, learned it was an illegal operation.

While dog farms are legal, this farmer and his dogs were squatters, occupying land that didn’t belong to him. Law enforcement authorities were contacted and ordered the farmer and the dogs off the land.

That left the farmer willing to negotiate, and he eventually agreed to turn all 30-plus dogs over to a sanctuary at the end of July.

HSI, working with Free Korean Dogs, then took steps to have them shipped to the U.S., making arrangements for them to be taken in and adopted out by no-kill shelters who participate in the Humane Society’s Emergency Placement Partners program.

Those who participate in the program accept dogs the Humane Society has rescued — from everything from puppy mills to natural disasters.

All 31 farm dogs, after their flight and a few days in Maryland, were brought to shelters in North Carolina.

In the parking lot of a shopping center in Cary, the dogs were turned over to volunteers from local humane societies and shelters in the state, the News & Observer reported.

Those shelters included Cashiers Highlands Humane Society, Paws of Bryson City, Moore Humane Society in Carthage, Outer Banks SPCA in Manteo, and the Watauga Humane Society in Boone.

I visited the four who went to Boone last week.

I wanted to take some photos. I wanted to see how anti-social and fearful of humans they might be, or if that resilience dogs are famous for was already becoming apparent.

I wanted to understand how hard it might be for them to shake the past. Many who have adopted them say they’ve gone on to make greats pets — as has been the case with many of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs, puppy mill dogs and other dogs who have seen and suffered from the worst in humans.

And in the back of my head, which is also where those images of meat market dogs linger, I was thinking I might like to have one.

(Tomorrow: Visiting four Jindos in Boone)

(Photos: From top to bottom, Jindol, one of the four Korean dogs now at the Watauga Humane Society, by John Woestendiek; caged dogs at a South Korean dog farm, by Jean Chung for The New York Times; dogs awaiting butchering at Moran Market in Seoul, by John Woestendiek)

A full-body leotard for shedding dogs


This is not a Halloween costume for your dog, though it could work for one.

And it’s not a full body version of the ThunderShirt, though it could work as that, too.

It’s not made for dogs with body issues, or to hide embarrassing skin conditions, or to keep them from delving nose first into regions of their body that are best left alone in polite company — though it could work for all those things, too.

harleyNo, this doggie leotard, sort of a combination between onesie and Snuggie, is called the Shed Defender, invented by a man who got tired of cleaning up hair shed by his dog, Harley.

According to the website for the Shed Defender, Tyson Walters was inspired to make it after he moved back home after studying at San Diego State University.

“I needed a solution to control Harley’s hair; it was everywhere,” he says on the website. “I had tumbleweeds of her hair on my hardwood floors. My car was close to ruined because of all the hair intertwined in the fabric. There was nothing I could do, just brush and brush and brush, and yet that still wasn’t enough.”

sheddefender2At first he had his mother start sewing a prototype. Then he turned to a professional seamstress.

The outcome, he says on the website, is a “flawless design that is not only effective, but also allows for a comfortable fit for the dog.”

It is made of a “lightweight, breathable, stretchy athletic mesh that does NOT make the dog hot.”

The Shed Defender is priced at $44.99 for a small, up to $59.99 for an XXL.

A video on the website shows how easily it can be put on a dog, and advises one to take special care when zipping it up, especially in the groin area.

“Once you take it off just shake it out or throw it in the dryer to remove the hair.”

The outfit leaves the dogs tail and rear exposed, and it can be partially unzipped when the dog goes out to pee.

They come in a choice of vibrant colors, and Walters is reported to be contemplating adding a line fashioned like sports team jerseys.

(Photos and video from Shed Defender website)

Dog reunited with his Syrian refugee family

A family who fled from Aleppo after a missile hit their home has been reunited with the dog they had to leave behind.

The reunion in Montreal, where the family now lives, came after a family member sent an email to SPCA International seeking help.

“I left Syria urgently with my mom and my brother, but we left our lovely dog, Fox, in Aleppo, Syria. We left him with our dad in a very dangerous area named Syrian El-Jadideh. Please help us bring our Fox [to Montreal]. Mom [is] always crying. She is extremely worried about Fox.”

In addition to the disabled father, an elderly grandmother and the dog remained in Syria when the mother and her two sons left the country, not long after a missile struck their home in 2015.

Fox was taken from Aleppo to Damascus and across the border to Lebanon by car, before being flown to Germany, and finally to Canada’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport on Sept. 26, where his family was waiting for him.

“It was a great feeling seeing Fox again. He was in our thoughts for so long and it felt like something was missing,” said Gaby Andrawos, one of the sons. “It felt like a very important part of our lives was missing for a long time and we finally got him back.”

Dogs are better at filtering out useless info

While both human children and dogs learn from copying adult humans, dogs are better at spotting the bullshit.

So says (though not in those words) a new study from Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center.

Imitation, in addition to being the sincerest form of flattery, is how we — be we a puppy or a baby — learn. But young humans tend to be more trusting, following adult advice exactly. Dogs are more likely to see a shorter route to accomplishing the goal and opt for it, filtering out unnecessary steps that are just a waste of time.

(Might this explain why dogs don’t watch television all that much, or get on the Internet?)

In the experiment, researchers presented over 40 breeds of dogs with treats hidden inside puzzles.

They showed the dogs the steps necessary to solving the puzzle, but in doing so they included many unnecessary steps.

When the dogs’ turn came to solve the puzzle, they skipped the irrelevant steps that had nothing to do with getting to the treats, showing that dogs are able, or at least more able than human children, to separate bad advice from good advice.

Researchers contrasted their study results with those from a similar study at Yale that examined children, and they found humans relied more on imitation than the dogs. The children, after watching an adult solve the puzzle, tended to duplicate every step — even the unnecessary ones.

The study is similar to one about a decade ago that compared chimpanzees with human puzzle solvers. Chimpanzees, while prone to imitation, were slightly better at discerning the unnecessary steps and avoiding them than humans.

“So this tells us something really important about how humans learn relative to other animals,” said Yale Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos, one of the study’s authors. “We’re really trusting of the information that we get from other individuals – even more trusting than dogs are.”

“And what this means is we have to be really careful about the kinds of information we present ourselves with,” she added. “We’re not going to have the right filter for bad information, so we should stick to looking at information that’s going to be positive, information that’s going to be good.”

Or, as easily duped as our species is, we could just let dogs give us the advice.

Pregnant bitch boards train in Moscow, gives birth to nine

Moscow’s stray dogs, as we’ve previously reported, make good use of the city subway system — and authorities and residents generally tolerate it.

But this week when a stray, apparently seeking a warm place to deliver her litter, boarded a train to give birth during rush hour, they were even more cooperative.

Passengers got off the train and put up with hour-long delays so the train the dog was on could be sent to a depot for a more private birthing experience.

As you can see in the video above, a number of people volunteered to help.

At the depot, under the supervision of metro workers and a vet they called in to supervise, she gave birth to nine pups — and the metro administration has started a campaign to find homes for all of them, Sputnik News reported.

trainThe dog boarded a metro train on the Koltsevaya line, as stray dogs do daily in Moscow, but after her condition was noted, metro workers were notified and the train was declared out of service.

After the births, they were all taken to a shelter.

Dogs boarding trains and taking seats is a fairly common sight in Moscow, where strays are plentiful and steps to shelter and find them homes are not.

In fact, the stray dogs of Moscow are a true social phenomenon. Some of them commute from the suburbs by train because it is easier to get handouts from humans in the city.

Foraging dogs have long been part of Moscow’s landscape, but they stayed mostly in the city’s industrial zones and lived a semi-feral existence. They mainly relied on discarded food and kept their distance from humans. But with old factories being transformed into shopping centers and apartments, strays have learned humans have the food and the inner city is the place to beg.

It’s sort of a small scale reenactment, with a twist, of the whole domestication of the species — dogs turned feral returning once again for a human handout and, in the process, learning big city ways.

The strays have learned to cross the street with pedestrians. Some believe that, even though the color difference is not noticeable to dogs, they’ve learned to understand the walking man signal.

As a country, though it has made strides, Russia doesn’t exactly have a shining reputation when it comes to an animal welfare. Remember Sochi?

But, as a people — even though they are often depicted as cold and hard-hearted — they have some compassion for dogs.

Maybe that’s genetic, maybe it comes from knowing how cold cold can get, maybe, in the case of Moscow, it intensifies when you’re sharing an urban area — the streets, the sidewalks, the train, your lunch — with them.