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Sometimes, the wealthy need help too …

huntington3Should an advertising executive and his wife who live in a $1.4 million home — she owning her own business, he making a six-figure salary — be asking for the public’s help to pay for their dog’s $10,000 surgery?

In retrospect, probably not — unless they’re willing to be called “shameless,” “pompous,” “greedy,” “selfish,” and “narcissistic,” and see themselves, and their yacht-cap wearing dog, roundly ridiculed on social media.

Richard Huntington, a chairman at the firm of Saatchi & Saatchi in London, and his wife, Annabel Bird, a fashioner designer who sells luxury dog products, made the plea after learning their dog Edward Lear needed surgery for elbow dysplasia in his front leg and torn cruciate ligaments in his two rear legs.

While they have pet health insurance, their policy set a limit on what it would pay — and that was only about a third of the cost being quoted to them by their celebrity vet Noel Fitzpatrick, star of the British TV show Supervet.

huntington2So they launched a Gofundme page with the aim of raising the additional £7,500.

On it, Annabel Bird wrote of the Welsh terrier, “I adore him more than anything in the world. Edward is a happy, friendly, popular dog who has lots of friends both in real life and on Instagram who check in everyday to see his adventures. (He is @edward.lear on instagram).

“All I want is for my funny little dog to be able to run around again like the crazy terrier he is and climb mountains in the Lake District and Snowdonia like he used to and enjoy his life to the fullest. He hasn’t walked for more than ten minutes in four months and I feel so bad for him. He’s missed out on so much fun and excitement.”

The dog has received two of the three operations his vet says he needs.

The Gofundme campaign raised about £5,400 of the £7,500 goal when the couple closed it out.

hungtington1Now, any member of the dog-loving community knows that such fund-raising pleas to cover the costs of veterinary surgery have become commonplace. Often they are legitimate. Sometimes they are scams. But those of this ilk are both disturbing and laughable.

It’s hard to have much empathy for a family that could easily — even if they are having cash flow problems — sell that fourth car, cancel the country club membership or go to a non-celebrity vet.

The couple says the campaign was aimed more at close friends and family than the general public.

Still, it’s not surprising, that their plea led to news coverage, and a barrage of criticism. What’s more suprising is how many people donated.

“Thank you again to everyone who contributed …” Annabel Bird wrote on the GoFundme page. “Unfortunately, his page has received some negative press because of who my husband Richard works for … As you know, this page was set up for our friends and family and those of mine and Edward’s Instagram followers who kindly asked to donate money to help with his recovery. This is not uncommon in the dog community on Instagram which is a wholly supportive and wonderful place to hang out.”

(Photos: Edward Lear, from Instagram)

Chinese scientists clone the world’s first primate; two macaque monkeys are born

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Nearly 13 years after the cloning of a dog, the species man is emotionally closest to, Chinese scientists have announced the first successful cloning of the animal man is physically closest to — the monkey.

Using the same basic technique that created Dolly the sheep in Scotland, the world’s first cloned mammal, and Snuppy the Afghan hound in South Korea, scientists in China produced two identical clones of a macaque, reigniting concerns among some that attempts to clone man are on the horizon.

The newborns — the world’s first cloned primates — were named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, after a Mandarin term for the Chinese nation and people.

The two healthy baby macaques were the only ones to survive to birth out of 127 altered egg cells implanted into more than 60 surrogate mothers.

The scientists behind the project said they followed the techniques of somatic cell nuclear transfer, but made a few refinements along the way. Unlike with Dolly and Snuppy, fetal cells were used rather than adult ones

Mu-ming Poo, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, who led the work, said further refinement of their methods would lead to higher success rates, Combining the cloning with gene editing will allow researchers to create “ideal nonhuman primate models” for studying disease mechanisms and screening drugs, he said.

So in answer to the seldom asked (at least by scientists) question — why clone monkeys? — that’s your immediate answer: As fodder for laboratory experiments.

The team behind the monkey cloning acknowledges that the work raises ethical questions, but Poo said he doubted it would lead to cloning man: “I would think society and the general public and governments will not allow extension of this method from nonhuman primates to humans.”

Science magazine reports that ethicists are also concerned about the monkeys themselves. “At present, it has not been sufficiently demonstrated that there are no alternatives to using macaque monkeys for such research,” Peter Dabrock, an ethicist at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, wrote in a statement.

Using nonhuman primates for research is more accepted in China than in the West, Poo said, adding “Once we demonstrate the cloned monkey’s usefulness in curing disease, I hope [Western societies] will gradually change their minds.”

He said the group is following international guidelines for the treatment and care of their monkeys.

Scientists around the world have cloned more than 20 species since Dolly the sheep was created in 1996, including dog, cat, horses, pigs, cows, rabbits, rats and mice,

Attempts to clone primates, however, had been unsuccessful, and some experts suspected primates might be resistant to the procedure.

The Chinese team reported in the Feb. 8 edition of the journal Cell that it’s difficult, but possible. The team succeeded, after many attempts, by using modulators to switch on or off certain genes that were inhibiting embryo development.

In all, it took more than 100 egg cells — merged with donor cells and implanted into surrogates — to produce two live macaque births.

Using adult cells, they achieved 22 pregnancies in 42 surrogates. That produced two births but neither survived. When they cloned using fetal monkey cells, six pregnancies were confirmed in 21 surrogates and yielded two healthy babies.

While the scientists celebrate their achievement, animal welfare groups, including PETA, condemned it.

“Cloning is a horror show: A waste of lives, time, and money – and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable,” said Dr. Julia Baines, Science Policy Adviser at PETA UK. “Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90 per cent, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale.”

(Photo: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo/Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Retired professor foresees the day we’ll be able to talk with dogs — and it’s soon

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A retired Northern Arizona University biology professor says a device that could provide humans with a basic idea of what dogs are thinking could be developed within the next 10 years, or even as few as two years.

Con Slobodchikoff says the device would decode a canine’s vocalizations, facial expressions and actions and then tell the human user what the dog is trying to say.

There are some far less scientific, far more gimmicky types of devices already on the market, but what Slobodchikoff is proposing — and attempting to raise money for — would be as simple as pointing your cell phone at your pet to get a translation of what he is trying to communicate.

Slobodchikoff, who spent decades researching prairie dog communication at NAU, says the technology would hinge on an artificial intelligence program that would learn to recognize animal sounds and actions through videos and pictures.

“The program would synthesize all of it, then tell the person the dog says ‘I want to go for a walk’ or ‘you’re scaring me, back off please,'” Slobodchikoff told the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.

b8e37915bfa7749f147182db37a4dcebWe’d point out here that the average dog owner is probably already getting such messages from his dog non-verbally. And we’d guess that “let’s go for a walk” or “isn’t it time for dinner” would account for 90 percent of any messages the device picked up.

Then again, what dog owner doesn’t want to get a little deeper into his dog’s head.

People like to think of their dogs as thinking, feeling beings and want to respond to them in some way, Slobodchikoff said. “But they don’t know what their dogs are trying to say to them.”

He says between two million and three million dogs are euthanized each year for behavioral problems, and that most of those problems arise because of a lack of communication between people and their dogs.

Last year, Slobodchikoff started the company Zoolingua to develop animal communication technology.

The timeline for developing a working translation device depends on how much money he and his partners can raise, he said. “If we get a lot of money we can do it in two to five years, not as much money then it probably will be 10 years.”

He hopes to perfect a device for dogs, then expand it to cats, horses, other domestic animals, and possibly wild animals someday.

Before he retired from NAU about seven years ago, Slobodchikoff’s research focused on analyzing the calls of prairie dogs that live around Flagstaff.

screen-shot-2015-08-16-at-11-00-02-pmSlobodchikoff conducted experiments where he parsed out prairie dog calls and determined that the animals had different calls for different threats or predators, like humans, birds and coyotes.

Upon further analysis, he found that the prairie dogs’ alarm calls had a structure similar to the nouns and adjectives used in human sentences. The animals also had different dialects, he said. You can read more about his work with prairie dogs in this New York Times article.

chasing“People see … that they’re not just this nuisance ground squirrel that digs burrows. They really are a complex animal that has unique personalities. Hopefully people can relate to that in a different way so that makes them stop and think a little bit before they just decide to shoot one or poison one on their property just because they don’t like it.”

After retiring, Slobodchikoff wrote the book “Chasing Doctor Dolittle,” in which he explored the languages of everything from whales to honeybees.

“Many animals do have language but we humans simply have not been listening,” he said.

Colorado bill would prohibit discriminating against dogs because of their size

Pet-Property-Rules-SignApartment complexes have them. Homeowners associations have them. Motels have them, too — rules that allow dogs to be banned because of their size.

Now, a Colorado state representative wants to correct that long-running injustice, the Denver Post reports. He has introduced a bill that would stop HOA’s or landlords from blanket bans on dogs that exceed a specified weight.

It’s high time. Size restrictions, like breed restrictions, are ridiculous, imposed and enforced by people who just don’t know any better.

And, while not to diminish all the more serious examples of it in our history, they are a form of discrimination.

HB-1126, if passed, would stop HOA’s or landlords from banning large dogs.

“It doesn’t matter the breed or the size. In a lot of ways, it’s just: ‘is this a behaved dog?'” said Rep. Paul Rosenthal (D-Denver) in introducing the legislation. “I think this is a fairness issue and right now people with big dogs are being treated unequally.”

The bill, even if it passes, would not override bans against certain breeds that some cities, like Denver, have imposed, and it would not stop landlords from banning dogs altogether.

Rosenthal said he proposed the legislation after hearing from a constituent in Englewood whose two German shepherds kept her from being able to find a housing situation she could afford.

Christy Wooten said she searched for six months for properties that would allow her two dogs, but ran into size restrictions at every turn.

“No one would accept them, and they’re not mean dogs. They’re the sweetest things. I rescued them. It broke my heart,” she said.

As a result, she gave the dogs to her ex, who now resides out of state.

“I’m surprised. With how dog-friendly Colorado seems to be, it’s a disappointment,” said Wooten. “They think they’re aggressive and they’re not.”

The bill apparently would not apply to motels and hotels, probably the worst when it comes to discriminating against large dogs. Yes, they’ll promote how “dog friendly” they are to reel in customers, but the small print often will specify “no dogs over 25, 45, 50 pounds.”

That’s ruling out a lot of dogs (and customers) — all under the false belief that a large dog is likely to cause more damage. Worse yet, it’s the kind of mindless discrimination, based on misplaced fears, that some Americans have practiced throughout history, to everyone’s detriment.

Consider how this would look in the human realm: “No customers over 225 pounds.” “We apologize, but due to liability concerns, we cannot accept NFL or NBA players.” “Sorry, fatty, there’s no room for you.”

Colorado should pass this law, and so should every other state.

Therapy dog comforts Dr. Nassar’s victims

prestonleashes1

There’s a dog sitting outside the Michigan courtroom where 144 victims of former Olympic gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar are reading statements on how they were impacted by the sexual abuse they say he put them through.

The 2-year-old Labrador retriever’s job? To bring those victims some comfort before and after their testimony.

Preston, a therapy dog, sits in the hallway of the Ingram County Circuit Court in Lansing and makes himself available to the victims, ABC News reported.

“Having Preston here has just been a joy,” said Samantha Ursch, 29, who testified last week about abuse by Nassar in 2011 while she was a gymnast at Central Michigan University. “He is a comfort, especially for a lot of us that have pets at home,” she added. “I’m away from my two dogs so having him here has been amazing and comforting.”

nassarleashes1The statements are part of a sentencing hearing for Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct in Ingham County.

Nassar, who worked at Michigan State University, faces a sentence of 40 to 125 years.

He has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges.

Preston usually has permission to sit inside Ingham County courtrooms when the prosecutor or family of victims request his presence. Usually he sits at the side of children or adults victimized by sexual abuse as they testify.

In the Nassar sentencing hearing, because the courtroom is so crowded with spectators, he is sitting in the hallway.

“This is the first time we’ve taken the approach of being in the hallway,” his handler, Ashley Vance said of the high-profile Nassar case. “It’s a really nice break for people to come out and have that comfort and support …I’ve seen people just kind of swarming him. [He offers] silent, nonjudgmental support and it’s just calming.”

aly-raismanleashes1Vance said the state’s attorney general’s office requested Preston’s presence during the hearing.

The dog works for the Small Talk Children’s Assessment Center in Lansing, where he began as a therapy dog in September 2016. He works both in courtrooms and at the children’s advocacy center, where children are interviewed by police and prosecutors after reports of abuse.

“Preston is providing a lot of unconditional love and comfort to some people who really need it right now,” said Alex Brace, executive director of Small Talk. “It’s very much about healing and providing hope to survivors of sexual assault and physical abuse.”

The statements from victims continued all day yesterday as they sometimes tearfully, sometimes angrily described the impact he had on their lives. Aly Raisman, one of the multiple Olympic gymnasts who say they were molested by Nassar, delivered her statement in court last week.

(Top photo by Chris Haxel / Lansing State Journal; photos of Nassar, Raisman by Brendan McDermid / Reuters)

Why dogs eat poop: A new theory suggests the behavior all goes back to wolves

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If you had to pick the one non-violent behavior that most dismays dog owners, it would likely be when their dog consumes dog poop — be it the dog’s own or some other dog’s.

Most of us can tolerate their incessant licking of their privates. We can laugh off them humping the leg of a house guest. But most humans find their dog gobbling up feces a revolting and inconceivable act, and some — believe it or not — have even cited it as a reason for returning a dog to a shelter.

While traditionally it has been speculated that some dogs (a minority) engage in the practice to make up for some deficiency in their diet, a new paper suggests it may be in their genes, Scientific American reports.

Veterinary researchers at University of California at Davis who surveyed nearly 3,000 dog owners found 16 percent of dogs consume canine feces “frequently,” meaning, in this case, they’ve seen them do it more than six times. In a second survey of just owners of poop-eating dogs, 62% of them were described as eating it daily and 38% weekly.

Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis, reviewed the survey results and the scientific literature on poop-eating, most of which he says is speculative and doesn’t provide any sort of definitive answer for the cause of what’s called coprophagy.

The survey showed no link between feces-eating and other compulsive behaviors. Coprophagy wasn’t associated with age, gender, spaying or neutering, age of separation from the mother, ease of house training, or any other behavior problem.

What coprophagic dogs had in common was this: More than 80 percent were reported to favor feces no more than two days old.

To Hart, that suggests that the cause may go back more than 15,000 years and be rooted, like so much else, in wolves. The new study by Hart and others was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Typically, wolves defecate away from their dens, but at times of urgency, they may let loose nearby. When that happens, other wolves commonly gobble it up while it’s fresh, possibly, some scholars believe, to prevent the spread of parasitic infections.

Feces contain intestinal parasite eggs, which, after a couple of days, hatch into infectious larvae.

Wolves, he said, figured out that by eating any fresh poop left near the den they could be spared being infected by parasites.

“If they eat it right away, it’s safe to eat. They won’t get infected by parasites,” he said.

He theorizes that today’s poop-eating dogs still carry around that wolfy instinct, even though the feces of modern-day pets, consuming modern-day dog food, tend to be parasite-free.

Hart noted there is no shortage of explanations for dogs eating poop.

“For every person you ask about this, you get a different opinion. Because they’re guessing, whether they’re veterinarians or experts in behavior,” he said.

Some believe that stress, or enzyme deficiencies lead to the behavior. Others suspect dogs picked it up as they adapted to scavenging for food sources in human environments. Many dogs will try to eat anything, and poop, from their own or other species, falls into that category.

The study noted that dogs whose owners considered them “greedy eaters,” were far more like to engage in the behavior.

Dog owners responding to the survey sometimes saw their dogs eating poop, and sometimes just surmised as much, based on “tell-tale breath odor,” or because poop in the house was disappearing before they got around to cleaning it up.

While there are products on the marketplace that claim to correct the problem, most of those do little more than make a dog’s own poop foul tasting, according to the Washington Post blog Animalia.

A dog owner can try and correct the behavior, clean up immediately after their dogs, and monitor them closely while they are outside, but the bottom line is — disgusting as it may strike us — dining on feces isn’t that surprising given where dogs come from and what they’ve been through.

As Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, noted:

“The niche that dogs occupy is essentially one of making a living on people’s leavings — and that isn’t just our leftovers from dinner, but what we put down the toilet, too,” he said. “So it’s only from our human perspective that coprophagy seems strange.”

After a basset hound’s disappearance, donations enable town to purchase a drone

The small central Texas town of Hewitt will soon be purchasing its own thermal imaging drone — and they can thank a basset hound named Gus for that.

Gus is the greying basset who went missing last July and stayed on the run nearly 50 days before, with help from a loaned drone, he was tracked down, trapped and returned to his owners.

His disappearance led to a massive search and, once he was found, one of the organizers of Team Gus began a fundraising campaign to get the Hewitt Police Department a drone of its own.

Nikki Pittman presented a check for $6,000 to city officials during Monday night’s council meeting, KWTX reported.

“We desperately needed one here and we kept depending on Dallas, North Dallas to come down here with their thermal drone,” said Pittman. “It was just necessary for Central Texas,” she said.

gusleashes1The money was raised with donations and sales of Team Gus coozies and t-shirts. It will help pay for the Hewitt police and fire department’s purchase of a drone, and licensing and training.

Police Chief Jim Devlin thanked Pittman for her hard work. “While it was a team effort, it was kind of a mission of hers,” he said. “She really stuck to her guns and pushed this thing.”

Devlin said police and fire agencies in New York City and Los Angeles have entire fleets of thermal drones that they use for “all kinds of types of operations. Those can be just as applicable to Hewitt, Texas as anywhere else,” he said.

The drone would be used for locating missing pets and people, and helping firefighting crews by giving them an overhead view of how a fire is spreading.

“It kind of boiled down to – we need one in Central Texas,” Devlin said. Hewitt police are matching the donation.

He believes having their own drone would have cut down on the time it took to catch Gus.

“I’d never thought we’d get outrun by a basset hound, but I also think if we did have the drone we could have launched that, we could have had control with that, I think it could have made a pretty big difference in the amount of time that he was actually on the loose,” said Devlin.

Devlin said the department is researching the purchase, but could have a drone in the air within the year. Firefighters, police officers and animal control staff will be trained how to use the equipment.

Gus disappeared July 24th. Mutts & Mayhem, a Dallas are rescue group, joined the search effort, using its thermal drone for three different overnight surveillance missions. Those helped lead searchers to the area where, in September, they set a trap and caught him.