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Wolfdog: A treasure among the trash

He goes by the nickname “Wolfdog.” Lives in Alabama’s great outdoors. And he spends most of his time, along with his dog, Bandit, picking trash — copious amounts of trash — out of the waterways.

It’s not a job. He doesn’t get paid. He says he does it out of his love for the planet and its wildlife.

“I’m not asking anybody for anything. I’m not a charity case. I ain’t a bum. I’m not a mooch,” says 55-year-old Cliff Skees. “But I do care about the environment. I care about wildlife. I care about human beings, but human beings, they take one look at me and they say, ‘Well, he’s just a piece of trash, you know.’

“Maybe I am. But then again, maybe I ain’t. I can look myself in the mirror and say I’m trying.”

We’ll go so far — despite the hard times he’s gone through in life — to cast a vote for “ain’t.”

And to point out that, most likely, a lot of those people who see him as “trash” are the same ones who so casually discard it, cluttering the waterways around Mobile, Alabama.

Skees is an unpolished gem, first discovered four years ago by Ben Raines, an environmental reporter for the Mobile Press-Register.

At the time, Skees was living the woods and was commonly seen with Bandit, gathering garbage from the shores from a canoe with these words painted on the side, “Be a critter, please don’t litter.”

Raines wrote a story back then about the man and his mission. He followed along as Skees — and Bandit, too — scooped up trash from the water and returned it to their base, where 140 bags full of garbage, stacked and numbered, sat.

“It was a startling sight, and a testament to just how trashy we Alabamians are, for even with that much trash picked up, so much more remained along the river banks,” Raines wrote.

Recently, Raines ran into him again — and found out that, while Skees’ mission remained the same, his situation has improved somewhat. You can read that second story here.

After the first story appeared, someone donated a pontoon boat to Skees, and he turned it into his base of operations.

Raines happened upon Wolfdog and Bandit again last week at a boat ramp on Chickasabouge Creek.

“They both looked prosperous and had a certain spring in their collective step. I immediately had the feeling some good fortune had come their way,” Raines wrote.

“Mr. Ben!” Wolfdog shouted, “You’ve got to see my rig. Things are different these days.”

bandit

Wolfdog then showed off the houseboat he had fashioned from the pontoon boat — one complete with solar panels, an electric motor, and other features that he fashioned out of recycled materials and some “backwoods hillbilly ingenuity.”

“The woodwork is top notch. Glossy marine varnish shines from every surface. There’s a bed, a table, a propane stove and several small windows. The framing for the insulated walls is aluminum, to better resist rotting. Everywhere you look, the craftsmanship is meticulous,” Raines reported.

An anonymous donor gave Skees the old 1979 pontoon boat after the first article appeared, apparently to support his one-man cleanup mission.

While friends donated items to the houseboat project, Skees receives no support for his efforts to keep the waterways clean — except that which Bandit supplies. When they are out in the canoe, Bandit will leap off to collect cups and plastic bottles in his mouth.

Wolfdog says he hopes to set a Guinness World Record for picking up trash, and he still dreams of finding some support from the local environmental groups.

“I can’t get nobody to help me. That’s what breaks my heart the worst. I can’t even get a thank you,” Wolfdog said. “I think they look at me and they see trash…

“I won’t give up. Get discouraged sometimes. But my best work, the best of my work, don’t come nowhere close to what I leave behind … There’s just no comparison. No comparison. Not nowhere close.”

Skees says it was on his first canoe ride that he fell in love with the solace of canoeing.

That trip is also when, seeing trash in the water, cleaning it up began his calling.

“For certain for sure,” he said. “There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to talk about it.”

If you are interested in helping Wolfdog and Bandit with their mission, contact Raines at braines@al.com.

(Photo courtesy of Wolfdog)

Would you let a drone walk your dog?

We report often on dog-related technology here on ohmidog! — both that which is budding and that which has found its way to the marketplace — and a good 90 percent of the time we have nothing positive to say about it.

Including this time.

A drone that walks your dog? No. No. And no.

This is just one man’s experiment, but let’s hope it doesn’t catch on.

Here’s the thing about dog-centered technology: It’s usually not centered on dogs at all.

Instead, it is aimed at making the lives of dog owners easier. Generally, it is something that relieves dog owners of responsibility, allowing them to both spend less time with their dog and feel less guilty about it.

Like machines that, on a programmed schedule or through remote operation, can dispense a treat to your dog while you’re away.

Or a machine that will play fetch with your dog while you’re away, or just too tired to go to all that effort.

And all those other contraptions, apps and gizmos that allow you to cut down on face to face time with your dog, thereby eroding the one thing that counts — the bond between the two of you.

Those devices aren’t really making it any easier for you to live your life. Your dog, on the other hand, is.

The video above shows Lucy, a golden retriever from Connecticut, being walked by a drone.

Jeff Myers, the mind behind this video, said he wanted to show it could be done — always a dangerous reason to do something, especially when it’s the sole reason.

Myers lives in New York City, and he borrowed his mother’s dog for the experiment, in which dog is leashed to drone and drone is controlled by an app.

It’s just a concept Myers says.

So too, at one point, was dog cloning. Those concepts — good or bad — have a way of turning into business enterprises once the realization that there could be profits kicks in.

This NPR report about the dog walking drone and other technological developments for dogs, concluded, “The future is here and it’s pretty darn cute.”

Pretty darn cute?

Yeah, right up there with using your car to walk your dog:

Dog rescues hummingbird? All it takes is faith, trust and a little pixie dust

Ed Gernon never suspected the German shepherd mix he adopted last year would be featured in one of those inter-species friendship videos.

Rex left the shelter with a reputation. He “fought other dogs and killed cats,” Gernon said. “He was dangerous. He was an animal that had learned to live on the streets and to survive on his own hunting ability, I guess.”

So Gernon was surprised when, a month after he took Rex home, the dog paused when he came across what Gernon thought was a dead hummingbird.

“He suddenly stopped and he would not move,” Gernon CBS Los Angeles. “I mean it’s tiny and it’s dead as far as I’m concerned. It’s covered in ants. It’s got no feathers.”

Given his dog’s seeming concern for the bird, Gernon checked it more closely, saw it was still alive, took it home, cleaned it up, and it has been living inside his home ever since.

And it even drinks out of Rex’s water bowl.

hummingbirdGernon describes it as living “with Tinkerbell,” even the the bird now goes by the name Hummer.

Gernon initially had to hand feed the bird a special formula every 15 minutes.

“You find yourself doing stuff you never thought in a million years you would do,” he said.

“It was this little creature. This fragile creature that the whole world wanted to kill and he was trying to protect her so I thought I’d go the distance,” Gernon said.

“I rescue this dog. He rescues the bird. The bird rescues all of us in a weird sense and it’s just a miracle,” Gernon said.

After living with the bird for a year, Gernon says it’s probably time for her to be free, and he’s started leaving the doors and windows of his home open, in case Hummer wants to go back out in the world.

So far, she hasn’t.

Why bark when you can honk?

I have a theory that there are many things dogs would like us to know, and that dogs even give us some hints in hopes of making us see the light, and that we humans, being humans, often just don’t get it.

These videos are a perfect example of what could be one of them:

Dogs left alone in cars — with the windows cracked if they’re lucky — sounding the car horn.

In the one above, posted on YouTube five months ago, an Airedale leans on the car horn for a good long time, while another Airedale waits more patiently in the back seat.

The dog’s owner returned to the car and said the two “love going for rides, but apparently they don’t like waiting,” according to the Pennsylvania woman who shot the video.

Here’s another one, from a few years back. This boxer reportedly sounded the horn for 15 minutes while her owner was in an art gallery in Scotland:

Here’s one more, where a barking dog, encouraged by a stranger to honk the horn, complied.

You can find many others on YouTube. Judging from them, the first response of humans — after grabbing some video footage, of course — is to laugh and label it “hilarious.”

Sure it’s funny. But might it be something more? Along the lines of a wake-up call? Along the lines of, “Hey, stupid, don’t leave us closed up in cars for extended periods of time. How much barking and honking will it take for that to sink into your thick human skull?”

If you’re old enough to remember Lassie, the TV show, you’ll recall how hard the collie — aware of some unfolding disaster — had to work to alert humans to the urgency of the situation. She’d bark, go in circles, run a little ahead and look back, clearly saying “hurry, follow me!”

The humans would watch, but precious time was lost, it always seemed, as they absorbed the signal she was sending.

“Wait, look at Lassie,” they’d say. (Long pause.) “I think … could it be …. is she is trying to tell us something?”

And this even though they’d all been through this same drill with her many times before.

We humans can be a little slow to catch on — even when the signs are staring in our faces … or blaring in our ears.

Questions swirling about VA’s ongoing, slow-moving study of psychiatric service dogs

It has been more than five years since Congress approved a $12 million Veterans Administration study into whether veterans with PTSD can benefit from psychiatric service dogs.

Since then hundreds of veterans with PTSD have been learning first hand of those benefits — but either on their own dime, or with help from nonprofit agencies.

Meanwhile, the study hasn’t gotten too far. It has been suspended twice, and reinstated twice, moving along at a snail’s pace. Or what some might call the VA’s pace.

There are even those, such as Rick Yount, executive director of the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection, who have questioned whether the study had been set up to fail so that the VA wouldn’t have to pick up expenses for psychiatric service dogs, as it does for service dogs helping veterans with physical disabilities.

The VA’s chief veterinary medical officer, Michael Fallon, called that insinuation “ludicrous.”

And yet, during the past five years, the study has gone anything but smoothly.

ptsd2The study began in late 2011, with three nonprofits contracted to provide up to 200 service dogs for veterans, who would be compared against a control group that did not receive dogs.

The VA cut off two of the three dog vendors following biting incidents involving participants’ children. Only 17 dogs had been placed with veterans when the final contract was terminated in August 2012 amid allegations of lax veterinary care and placement of dogs “with known aggressive behavior,” according to VA records.

Meanwhile, questions have arisen about how the dogs that have been placed are being trained, and whether the tasks they are learning to perform benefit a veteran with PTSD or only reinforce their paranoia, according to the Associated Press.

Specifically, the dogs are being trained to do things like sweeping the perimeter of a room before a veteran enters, or protecting the veteran by “blocking.”

“Isn’t that saying that al-Qaida could be behind the shower curtain? That’s supporting paranoid, pathological thinking,” said Meg Daley Olmert, chief research adviser for Warrior Canine Connection and author of a book on how contact with a dog can create a sense of well-being.

Warrior Canine Connection, a Maryland-based nonprofit that uses veterans to train service dogs for other veterans, believes the dogs should be trained to pick up on cues from PTSD sufferers and then provide the appropriate support, such as learning to wake someone up during a nightmare or detecting when a veteran is anxious, and interacting in a way that helps calm him.

ptsdThe VA’s training protocol “reinforces the cognitive distortions that accompany PTSD,” said Robert Koffman, a retired Navy psychiatrist and chief medical officer for the organization.

Between the questionable training protocol, all the studies delays (only about 40 dogs have been placed with veterans), and the VA’s ongoing contention that the benefits for service dogs for PTSD sufferers has not been proven, some wonder how objective the study is going to be.

Not everyone is willing to wait for the study to run its course.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill that would take $10 million from the VA’s budget to immediately begin pairing service dogs with post-9/11 veterans for whom traditional PTSD treatments hadn’t worked.

At a hearing before a Congressional committee last week, Dr. Michael Fallon, Chief Veterinary Medical officer Fallon, repeated that “the benefits of service dogs in assisting people with mental health diagnoses have not been established in scientific literature.”

But Rory Diamond, the executive director of K9s for Warriors, told the committee that research already shows veterans with PTSD receive extraordinary benefits from service dogs, including allowing them to elminate their use of medications, handle anxiety better, and reduce suicidal thoughts, nightmares, and night terrors.

“There are thousands of veteran suicides that could have been prevented if they would have had access to a service dog,” Diamond told Congress.

(Photo: Army veteran Joe Aguirre with his service dog Munger; by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Dangling dog rescued from 13th story window in Bogota — the hard way

A man’s daring rescue of a dog hanging out the balcony window of a 13th floor apartment in Bogota, Colombia, was caught on video.

The video was posted earlier this week on the Facebook page of Love for the Animals, an animal rights group in Bogota.

The dog, named Luna, had apparently gotten stuck between the rails that covered the window, with most of her body hanging out the window.

Luna’s owner wasn’t home so the only way to get to reach her was from the outside.

Diego Andrés Dávila Jimenez first tried to use a broom to push the dog back inside, while leaning out the window of an apartment one floor below. When that didn’t work he climbed one story up the face of the building as a crowd below watched and shouted encouragement to him.

“People on the ground were screaming. They had a mattress out just in case,” said Jimenez, according to The Dodo. “The truth is, I did not think about the dire consequences. I did not look down.”

Jiminez climbed up the building, over the rails and into the apartment, then pulled the dog to safety.

“When I had Luna in my hands and looked down, a thousand thoughts flew through my mind,” Jimenez said. “My girlfriend was a little upset, yelling at me ‘You stay there! Do not climb back down!'”

When Luna’s owner came home and found out what happed, “she was in tears,” Jiminez said. “She is very grateful, because she just adores that dog.”

Depp and his wife apologize to Australia

Johnny Depp’s wife totally out-acted her more famous husband, or at least came across as more sincere, in this video apologizing to the Australian government for sneaking their two Yorkshire terriers into the country without declaring them.

In what more than a few think looks like a hostage video, the couple talks about the importance of Australia’s strict biosecurity laws — aimed at preserving the islands diverse plant and animal life.

“When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly,” Depp somberly — almost sleepily — intones.

“I am truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared,” says his wife, Amber Heard.

Clearly, this recorded apology was part of a deal reached between the couple’s lawyers and the Australian government. Heard was initially charged with smuggling, conviction of which can carry a 10-year prison sentence, but she pleaded guilty yesterday only to knowingly producing a false or misleading document.

In exchange for that, and the apology, she got little more than a slap on the wrist. She received a one-month “good-behavior bond,” which means she would be fined ($1,000 Australian dollars) only if she broke that bond.

The apology was posted to Facebook by Australia Minister of Agriculture Barnaby Joyce, who, after the charges were first filed, suggested that the dogs, if they weren’t “buggered off back to the United States,” might otherwise face being euthanized.

After that, during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Depp called Joyce a “weird, sweaty-pated gut man who decided two five- or six-inch teacup terriers would harm the country in some way.”

Quite a contrast with the apology video, yes?

Depp and Heard failed to filed the proper paperwork when they arrived by private jet last year in Australia, where Depp was filming “Pirates of the Caribbean 5.” Normally, arriving dogs face a quarantine period.

After photos of Depp’s dogs going to a groomer in Australia went public, the government began an investigation into how they entered the country.

Joyce told ABC News that he hopes the recorded apology serves as a warning to future travelers to Australia.

“The more widely viewed it is the more we have people who might be unaware of our biosecurity requirements and, as they come into this nation, they say this is one thing that the Australians are red hot about, biosecurity.”