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Much ado about nothing: Audible partners with Millan to launch audio books for dogs

Gotta call bullshit on this one.

Well, maybe “bullshit” is too strong a term. Maybe I should just say, “Give me a break” or “Get real,” while rolling my eyes and wondering what consumers are going to fall for next.

Audible and Cesar Millan have teamed up, offering and promoting a book-of-the-month type program, in which, for $14.95 a month, you can choose audio books to play for your dog while you’re not home.

Of course Audible For Dogs is the same thing as Audible for humans, thereby requiring no investment from Audible, or parent company Amazon, other than what they’re spending on promoting the campaign and the undisclosed amount they’re paying Millan, who reportedly is helping choose the books and making promotional appearances.

If you’re not the sort to buy “Pride and Prejudice” for yourself, you might be willing to buy it for your dog, Audible figures, and play it for him to keep him calm and occupied when you leave the house.

The campaign promotes books the company already offers in audio, featuring them on the Audible For Dogs web page — sometimes classics, sometimes bestsellers, sometimes dog-themed, including several by (you guessed it) Cesar Millan.

It’s all based on a 2015 study performed at Hartpury College in the U.K. that showed that listening to audio books reduced stress in shelter dogs even more than music does.

dogs-with-headphonesFollow-up research was conducted with 100 dog participants through Millan’s Dog Psychology Center, and it found (big surprise) exactly what the company wanted it to find.

Specifically, Millan’s center found that 76% of dog owners who played audio books for their dogs reported an increase in calm, relaxed behavior in their pets over a four-week period.

Audible is already the largest seller of narrated books.

But it has figured out it can sell even more by cashing in on our tendency to pamper our dogs and exploiting the guilt we feel when we leave them alone

As one of the owners involved in Millan’s “follow-up study” explained, she used to feel guilty every time she left her dog, Buddy, at home alone.

In a video interview with Millan, she spoke of the effects the audio book program had on her dog and, more importantly it seems, her.

“I was really surprised at the lack of guilt I found when I was able to do that, it was like leaving him with a friend,” the woman, named Leslie, says. “I could go out with a smile on my face and feel really good about what I was doing for him.”

News flash, Leslie: You could have just left a TV or radio on for him and achieved pretty much the same effect, saving $14.95 a month.

($14.95 is the regular price for an Audible subscription, which comes with one new book a month.)

I’ll admit I leave the TV on for my dog, rescued from a Korean dog farm, in hopes it will keep him calm and help him get used to non-threatening humans.

But would I buy him his own audio book? Absolutely not — unless maybe it was one narrated by the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman, or the calm, sleep-inducing, you-can’t-have-too-much-Xanax voice of Bob Ross, the painter.

(Disclaimer 1: We are not implying Bob Ross uses Xanax. You can have too much Xanax. And so can your dog.)

(Disclaimer 2: I apply this same therapy to myself, seeking out a reassuring voice on TV to fall asleep to. Sixty-three year old’s can’t suck their thumbs. This is why I often go to bed with Bob Newhart.)

Millan suggests choosing a book narrated by a person of the same gender as their dog’s primary master and notes that “it’s the consistency of a tone that allows the dog to stay in that (relaxed) frame of mind.”

He also suggested the books be played at average volume on a listening device such as the Alexa-driven Echo, which Audible’s parent Amazon just so happens to sell.

audiodogsMillan says audio books can help dogs better cope with the separation anxiety many have when left alone, which can result in bad behavior, including barking, destruction and peeing.

He also told USA Today, “I’m always looking for ways where people don’t feel guilty, worried, (or) stressed when they leave their dogs alone.”

Again, none of this is actually groundbreaking.

Most of us likely had already figured out that an audio book — like the television or radio — can keep our dog “company.”

Yet Audible/Amazon still felt the need to appoint a celebrity, create a new niche market, conduct a campaign, issue press releases and have a “launch.”

“While most dog owners will indeed go to great lengths to ensure the happiness of their four-legged family members, you can’t help but approach Audible For Dogs with a healthy dose of skepticism,” wrote USA Today. “So is Audible barking up the wrong tree?”

We’d say yes, unless you’re talking about the money tree.

To its credit, through the end of the year, Audible will donate a dime per download to Long Island’s North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization, up to a total donation of $250,000.

Millan also somewhat philanthropically recorded an original audio book for the service called “Cesar Millan’s Guide to Bringing Home a Shelter Dog,” which you can download for free.

Launch titles include Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” performed by Rosamund Pike; Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” performed by Noah; W. Bruce Cameron’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” performed by William Dufris; Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” performed by Christopher Evan Welch; and Maria Goodavage’s “Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes,” performed by Nicole Vilencia.

We laugh at Audible’s effort. And yet, at the same time, we encourage them, if they are going to persist in this, to work some books narrated by Morgan Freeman, Bob Ross and Bob Newhart into the mix.

We’d also suggest some Hans Christian Anderson — specifically, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” because it so perfectly reflects what they are up to: making people think something is there when it’s not.

The only thing there is a desire to sell more books. With fewer humans reading them, maybe Audible felt the need to branch out to other species.

I’d warn you that the day could come — given all the books dogs might be consuming and a decline in our own reading — that dogs could become smarter than us.

But there’s a pretty good chance that day is already here.

Dumped dog finds a home in city hall

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Rochester, Texas, is about three hours west of Fort Worth and about one hour north of Abilene — a small crossroads of a town (population, about 400) whose remote location has made it a common place for people to dump unwanted dogs.

How they fare after that varies, but one dog has made out OK, earning the unofficial title of “town dog,” spending summer days in the air conditioning of City Hall, and recently having moved into the home of the city manager.

“People are bad about dropping strays off here,” City Manager Gail Nunn told the Abilene Reporter-News. “We don’t know who left him, he was just dropped off as a puppy.”

He was originally spotted by resident Linda Short who gave him half her burrito and became a friend for life. Short had him neutered and vaccinated and he freely roamed the streets, often laying on the sidewalk outside the Hole In the Wall Café.

nuisance1Because he regularly seemed to patrol the street, she took to calling him Deputy Dog, but the name that stuck was Nuisance.

Not that the well-behaved dog is is too much of one.

In the summer, he spends much of his time inside City Hall, enjoying the air conditioning.

“During the day, he comes in and lays there,” Nunn said. “When he wants to get out and make his rounds, he’ll go to the door and tap on it for me let him out.”

Nuisance is a medium-sized, black and tan dog, and while he wasn’t causing too many complaints living on the streets, Nunn recently decided to take him home for his own safety.

For one thing, she didn’t want him to have the same fate of the previous town dog — Butter, a small yellow dog. “He got rattlesnake bit,” Nunn explained.

On top of that, stray dogs face other dangers, like coyotes, irate farmers, and speeding cars.

Nuisance is mostly adapting, but sometimes living up to his name by escaping.

Nunn said on a recent Sunday she drove her car to church — even though it’s right across the street — so the dog wouldn’t follow her.

Walking into the church, she looked down and saw Nuisance at her side.

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He’s still living up to the Deputy Dog moniker as well.

He was recently seen trailing a shady character, dressed in black with a pulled-up hoodie.

“They think it was somebody fixing to rob something,” Nunn said.

He also reacts when someone drives through town too fast or too loudly, perking up his ears and rising, as if readying himself for pursuit.

“It’s the ones that come through racing their motors,” Nunn said. “He goes after them.”

(Photos: City Manager Gail Nunn and Nuisance, by Ronald W. Erdrich / Reporter-News)

Happy ending? Pattinson retracts account of being urged to pleasure a dog in film

Actor Robert Pattinson now says the story he told on Jimmy Kimmel Live —
about being urged by a film crew to perform a sex act on a dog — didn’t actually happen.

Pattinson appeared on the show last week, and said that while filming the movie “Good Time,” the director urged him to stroke a dog’s penis. He told Kimmel he refused, and that a prosthetic penis was used for the scene.

PETA, maybe a little too soon, jumped on the story, criticizing the movie’s makers but supporting Pattinson for his courageous refusal to do what he was asked.

“PETA depends on actors and crew members to come forward when they see mistreatment, whether it involves a dog who is being forced into churning water on the set of ‘A Dog’s Purpose‘ or an A-list actor who is being asked to molest his canine co-star,” PETA Vice President Lisa Lange said in a statement.

She added, “Robert Pattinson is our kind of guy (and everyone’s who has a heart) for refusing to masturbate a dog — which is like child molestation — and for talking about it so that the public can see that once again animal trainers’ top priority is money and animals’ interests and well-being are often ignored.”

After the PETA statement, Pattinson cleared the record. He issued his own statement, saying the story he told Kimmel was “a joke.”

“The story I told on Jimmy Kimmel last night seems to have spiraled out of control,” he said in a statement to E Online. “What didn’t come across is that this was supposed to be a joke. No one at all expected or assumed that anything like that would happen on the Good Time set.”

No one, maybe, except PETA and millions of animal lovers.

GoodTime2017Pattison’s initial remarks on the show were in reference to a scene in which his character, he said, was “sleeping with the dog and basically giving the dog a hand job.”

“I asked the trainer [about it] because the director was like, ‘Just do it for real, man! Don’t be a pussy!’ And the dog’s owner was like, ‘Well, he’s a breeder. I mean, you can. You just gotta massage the inside of his thighs.’ I was like, ‘Just massage the inside of his thighs?!’ I didn’t agree to do the real one, so we made a fake red rocket.”

He prefaced his telling of the story with these words, “Oh, God! I don’t even know if I can say this. There are a lot of things in this movie which really cross the line of legality. Like, it’s not even on the line, it’s way beyond the line.”

That doesn’t sound too much like the set-up for a joke, but he insisted later that a joke — funny or not — is what it was.

Co-director Josh Safdie, in a statement on Instagram, denied that Pattinson was pressured to touch the dog inappropriately. He said the prosthetic device was used in filming. The scene, however, was deleted during editing.

“Everyone involved in Good Time are amazing professionals and have come together to make a movie that I’m extremely proud of,” Pattinson said. “I feel embarrassed that in the moment, I was trying to make Jimmy laugh, only to create confusion and a false impression.”

The independent film stars Pattinson as Constantine “Connie” Nikas who is trying to evade authorities and get his brother out of jail after a bank robbery goes wrong.

It premiered to rave reviews at Cannes in May and opens August 11.

Plumber fired after video posted on Facebook of him kicking a dog

An employee at a Winston-Salem plumbing company was fired after a video of him kicking a dog inside a house was posted on Facebook Wednesday.

The employee, who hasn’t been named, worked for PF Plumbing, a company that features a bulldog named Cooper in its advertising.

On the company’s website, Cooper is pictured holding a wrench in his mouth, next to the company’s promise that its employees are “drug tested, background checked and highly professional.”

A woman with the Facebook profile name Kelly Nicole posted a 34-second video clip showing two men from the company coming into a living room on the way to the kitchen, with a barking dog following them.

plumbers

One of the men kicked the dog before continuing into the kitchen.

The video was captured by the home’s Nest, a security and monitoring system.

The Facebook post, before it was taken down, had more than 1,800 shares and more than 550 comments Wednesday evening, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

Initially, Nicole posted, “see the video below of what this scumbag did to our completely harmless dog this morning,” along with a screenshot of a PF Plumbing truck.

In a subsequent post, Nicole wrote that the company had expressed a “heartfelt sincere apology and made sure our dog was OK” in a phone call, and that, despite the incident, she would still recommend it.

Teresa Freer, corporate secretary and owner of PF Plumbing, told the Journal that the longtime employee — a pet owner himself — had been fired.

“PF Plumbing is not taking this lightly and is taking the appropriate steps,” she wrote in a post on the company’s Facebook page.

“We have terminated the employee and have been in contact with the company attorney throughout the day for advice on further steps to take, PF Plumbing will release the details at which time it becomes available. Again PF Plumbing sincerely apologizes. Please … keep an open mind and do not allow one employee’s actions to misconstrue what our company stands for!”

Freer told the Journal that the employees were surprised to find a dog in the new house, because they thought it was empty.

The visit was scheduled by the builder of the house, who told them no one would be home, she said.

Kelly Nicole said on her Facebook page that one of her dogs stays in a crate when no one is home, but the other one does not.

She said she was unaware anyone was coming to the house Wednesday.

“Had we known they were coming, we would have put the dog away beforehand or came home and done so,” she said.

No more kissing: An urgent and newsworthy life-or-death warning to all dogs everywhere

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Dear fellow dogs,

It is with great sadness that we issue you this urgent public health warning, but evidence is mounting that licking the face of a human can lead to deadly consequences.

After careful consideration, we are advising that you cease the age-old practice at once: What has traditionally been viewed as a gesture of love and loyalty now clearly poses a direct and immediate threat to our species.

The slightest licking of a human face can lead to mumps, ringworm, salmonella, swine flu, Giardia, MRSA and more.

satireWe know it is hard to resist licking the hand that feeds you, much less slurping that human face leaning towards you in hopes of receiving a good tongue-lashing.

But resist we must, no matter how tempting. That sweet toddler face crusted with remnants of spaghetti dinner? Avoid it. The master who wants you — for some reason — to snag a treat from his or her mouth? Politely decline.

They are germ-filled creatures, and germs must be avoided at all costs.

For now, our concern is with human faces, because they are home to mucous membranes, the path many transmittable disease follow. Human faces are veritable germ factories, but human hands could be even worse.

Do you have any idea where those hands have been?

In an average day, the typical human has wiped his own hiney, scooped up our poop, picked his own nose, scratched his own groinal area, and turned a dozen or so door knobs. And that’s just the beginning.

We, at this point, are beginning to have doubts whether we should continue to allow them to even pet us. We now have that under study and will issue an additional advisory if necessary.

We realize this warning to you is vastly different than the reports your owners are receiving from their so-called news media and studies by their so-called scientists. Those reports tend to only address the dangers we pose to humans, ignoring the dangers they pose to us.

For example, take this week’s New York Post: “The Deadly Reason You Shouldn’t Let Dogs Lick Your Face.”

And those reports tend to snowball, thanks to the Internet, getting blown way out of proportion and repeated by anyone who knows how to cut, paste or share.

So you may have already noticed your human has developed a sudden revulsion to being licked.

Our warning, though, which you will only read here, is based on solid science and sources as respectable as PetMD.

With humans not wanting us to lick them, and us resisting the urge to lick them, we can only wonder how the bond between humans and dogs will play out in the future.

The lick, after all, is the most powerful item in our toolkit, and it is is difficult to imagine how, without it, we will be able to complete our mission — namely, to provide the affection and reassurance humans so desperately need.

While, for now, we can continue to shake hands, cuddle and nuzzle, anything involving the tongue, effectively immediately, is out. Given this void, humans, most likely, will turn to other sources of reassurance, such as Facebook friends who tell them they are beautiful/awesome/loved/in their prayers/etc.

You can’t get germs from a Facebook friend, assuming we don’t count computer viruses.

The Facebook friend could well end up replacing the dog, and that would be a disaster, sending us back to our wolfen days and throwing the entire ecosystem out of whack.

We, the board members of the Department of Human Control, debated long and hard over issuing this warning. There were those among us who felt we should continue licking the faces of people, no matter the health risks. They, however, were a minority and members of the smaller breeds.

As we enter the lick-free era, it is vital that we come up with new ways to endear ourselves to humans — maybe learn to take out the trash, do the dishes or find other ways to make them feel they need us.

For the truth is we have grown to rely on this curious species that wipes its own hind quarters and, often, doesn’t wash its hands as often as it should.

As disgusting and needy as they can be, we’ve grown to love them — germs and all.

(At top, my former dog Ace with my former neighbor Mike; at bottom, Ace’s kissing booth, 2009)

Another greyhound track bites the dust

mgp

Alabama will be down to its last greyhound track when live dog races come to an end at Mobile Greyhound Park later this month.

Dog races at the park will cease Aug. 16 due to declining public interest in the “sport,” Wind Creek Hospitality announced Monday.

That will leave Birmingham Race Course as the only track in Alabama with live greyhound racing.

Alabama is one of just six states where greyhound racing remains legal and operational. Forty states have declared it illegal, according to Grey2K USA.

Since 1973, Mobile Greyhound Park has offered live dog racing, but revenues from betting have declined steadily since 1987.

In 2009, PCI Gaming Authority — an enterprise of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians — purchased controlling interest of the track for a reported $10 million. They had hoped to diversify their funding streams, but state laws prohibited other forms of gaming at the track.

According to PCI, about 30 employees will be affected by the end of live dog racing. The company has offered to “assist each team member with locating and applying for opportunities at other Wind Creek Hospitality facilities …”

In a statement, it said it will also assist kennel owners with the relocation, adoption and ongoing care of about 400 greyhounds who still “provide service” at the track.

Those at the peak of their racing careers will probably move on to other tracks, while the majority will be put up for adoption.

Inquiries about adopting a greyhound from the track can be emailed Darla Dean, the president of Alabama Sighthound Adoptions in Mobile, at ALsighthounds@gmail.com. The fee to adopt is $225.

Dogs are greater motivation for buying first home than children or marriage, study says

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If you’re flipping houses — and based on my television viewing I surmise pretty much everyone in America is — you might want to give a fenced back yard the highest priority, higher even than that “en suite” master bathroom.

A study commissioned by Sun Trust, a mortgage company, shows that Millennial-age Americans are motivated to buy a home more because of their dog — or the possibility of someday having one — than they are by marriage of the birth of a child.

So forget that nursery, flippers — whether you’re in Orange County, Atlanta or Las Vegas. Don’t worry so much about those his and her walk-in closets. Instead, make sure the home you’re flipping has a nice sturdy fence.

True, if you’re one of those countless flippers who have combined your flipping with your own flipping TV show, watching a fence get built doesn’t make for riveting television. But then (sorry) neither does the laying of sod or the construction of a kitchen island. (Despite that, I keep watching for some reason.)

But back to the study … A full 33 percent of millennials between ages 18 and 36 said that canine-related concerns are what motivated them most to buy a home.

That’s more than the number who said they made the jump to home ownership because of marriage (25 percent), a new baby (19 percent), or to get a washer and dryer (18 percent).

A desire for more living space was the top motivator (at 66 percent), followed by a desire to build equity (36 percent). Third, though, were the needs of the dog, or a potential dog — including a fenced yard.

The survey was restricted to millenials who recently bought their first home.

It asked about their motivations for doing so, as opposed to the house features they were looking for.

So things like stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops — both of which seem vital based on my watching of too many television shows featuring spoiled people looking for a new house — were not factors.

The survey found that 42 percent of millennials who had never bought a home said that their dog, or the desire to have one, would be a key factor in their decision to make the jump from renting to owning.

The study found that 60 percent of first-time home buyers are millennials. It’s expected that, within the next five years, 80 million millennials will embark on their house-hunting journey, said Dorinda Smith, president and CEO of SunTrust Mortgage.

She said restrictive pet policies among landlords add to the numbers of pet owners seeking their own place.

“Some rental properties don’t allow pets and most rental properties are limited in space,” Smith said. “There’s also additional effort in keeping a dog in rental apartments.”

(Photo: Tarek and Christina El Moussa, hosts of “Flip or Flop, are separated with a divorce pending, but the show goes on, from HGTV; graphic from SunTrust Banks, Inc.)