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Tag: awards

A truly commited artist — or at least one who maybe should be

smr3ekar2

What do you say about an artist who lays naked with wolves, breastfeeds a puppy, and fertilizes one of her egg cells with a dog’s cell?

Among the words chosen by those commenting on websites describing her work are these: “Psychopath,” “Dear God, the world has gone nuts,” “Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting” and “Someone tell me this is fake news.”

Sorry, it’s not.

Artist Maja Smrekar’s four different projects, combining art with scientific research, go under the name “K-9_topology.”

They started with a fairly tame researching of the physiology of the relationship between humans and dogs. That was followed by posing naked with wolves.

Then she got weird.

smrekarfacebookThe Slovenian artist lived in seclusion for three months with her dogs as part of one.

During that time, she used systematic breast pumping to stimulate a hormone and trigger production of breast milk, and breastfed her puppy Ada to explore “the social and ideological instrumentalization of the female body and breastfeeding.”

That piece of work would go on to be exhibited as “Hybrid Family.”

Then — to explore her “reproductive freedom in a dangerously traveled multi-species world” — she took a fat cell from another dog, Byron, and used it to fertilize one of her eggs using a method similar to IVF. No true pregnancy resulted, according to RT.com.

The artist said on her website that the project grew out of the “observation of zeitgeist through the so called thanatopolitical dimension of contemporary biopolitical practices.”

Do not even ask me what that means. (A video in which the artist explains one of her projects can be found here.)

Despite the bizarre nature, Smrekar’s project has received accolades from art critics and was awarded the top prize in the Hybrid art section of the Prix Ars Electronica, one of the best known prizes in the field of electronic and interactive art.

What did they have to say about it?

“What is making this artwork so special is the total commitment of the artist,” the jury said in a statement.

That commitment, they said, was reflected by “exposing her body to hormone roller-coasters of false pregnancy and organizing the lab infrastructure to execute the complicated biotech protocol in order to create a poetic masterpiece evoking the challenges of post-humanistic dilemma.”

(The word “commitment” does come to my mind in looking at her work, but a different kind of commitment.)

“K-9_topology is a true hybrid artwork with a profound bio-political message,” the judges concluded, “and is certain to bring a lot of discussion to the audience from both the art and science sides.”

Not the words I would choose. To me, it serves as proof that, as weird as scientific research can get, as weird as art can get, combining the two can get exponentially weirder.

“The Present”

This animated short was shown at more than 180 film festivals and won more than 50 awards in the two years after its release in 2014.

Now the makers of “The Present” have posted it on Vimeo for all the world to see.

Jacob Frey and Markus Kranzler were students at the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in Ludwigsburg, Germany, when they worked on the film together.

Susie named 2014’s “American Hero Dog”

susie

Susie, the abused North Carolina dog who inspired a law, a movie, and a nonprofit organization, has been named the American Humane Association’s 2014 American Hero Dog.

Susie, found with burns over most of her body in 2009, received a standing ovation at the AHA‘s black-tie awards gala Saturday night in Beverly Hills, where she was one of eight finalists competing for the prize.

“I’m just blown away,” Donna Lawrence told TODAY.com after learning her dog had won. “There were so many amazing dogs with great stories. When they called Susie, I just wanted to cry.”

In 2009, Susie was found with severe second and third-degree burns over most of her body in Greenfield Park in south Greensboro. Her ears were burned off and she had a broken jaw and teeth. She was taken to the Guilford County Animal Shelter and eventually nursed back to health.

She was adopted by Donna and Roy Lawrence — just 10 months after Donna was attacked while trying to help a neglected pit bull that had spent much of its life tied to a tree in her neighbor’s yard in High Point, North Carolina.

When the man who was convicted of setting Susie on fire was sentenced to probation, outraged dog lovers launched a campaign for tougher penalties for animal cruelty and abuse.

“Susie’s Law,” which made animal cruelty a felony in North Carolina, went into effect in 2010, signed by then-governor Bev Perdue.

Donna Lawrence went on to establish Susie’s Hope, a nonprofit organization that fosters awareness of animal abuse. In 2013, the story was made into a movie, also called “Susie’s Hope.”

Susie is now a certified therapy dog and visits schools, hospitals and churches to bring messages of kindness, respect and responsibility to children and adults.

Other finalists in the Hero Dog Awards, included:

Bretagne, one of the last known surviving search dogs who worked at Ground Zero in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

Kai, an arson dog who has worked more than 200 fire investigations in San Antonio

JJ, a little dog with a powerful nose that can detect when his human, ther  a girl named KK Krawczyk, is about to have a life-threatening reaction due to a rare illness

Kota, a law-enforcement K9 who sustained multiple fractures while responding to a burglary in progress but who kept trying to help his police officer partner apprehend a suspect

Xena the Warrior Puppy, a dog rescued from extreme abuse who went on to help a little boy with autism in profound ways

Chaney, a military dog who served multiple tours sniffing out explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan

Xxon, a guide dog who helped an Air Force sergeant continue to serve active duty and regain independence after being blinded by explosives in Afghanistan.

The Hallmark Channel will air the awards show on Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. (Eastern Time).

(Photo: American Humane Association)

Has the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest run its course?

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It seems like every year I’ve teetered a little closer to disliking the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest.

A cute concept at first — and one that helped remind us what a superficial thing beauty can be —  it seems to have grown into a pageant that, despite its focus on “ugliness,” inches ever closer to reflecting many of the same negative traits of purebred dog shows and beauty contests.

As the quirky little contest at the Sonoma County Fair in Petaluma has grown huge, and the title more sought after, there has been a concurrent increase in cut-throat competition, campaigning and hype.

But it’s the choice of this year’s winner that may have finally pushed me into being a fan no more. The title of World’s Ugliest Dog was won by a dog whose unusual appearance is the result of being abused.

And that troubles me.

This year’s winning dog, Peanut, a two-year-old mixed breed, is from Greenville, N.C. He was adopted from a shelter after being found abandoned and severely abused. It is suspected he was set on fire. While he’s healthy now, his eyelids, lips and patches of hair on his body were burned off, which accounts for much of his unusual appearance.

His owner, Holly Chandler, held fundraising campaigns to travel to California and enter Peanut in the contest — all, she said, to help raise awareness about animal abuse.

Given that’s a large part of this website’s mission, too, I have no problem with that cause.

I’m all for celebrating dogs who look different. I’m all for celebrating dogs who have overcome harsh odds. I’m all for abused dogs recovering and becoming rich and famous while their abusers rot in prison.

Where my discomfort comes in, I think, is placing abused animals in a “contest” context and, within that party atmosphere, picking a winner whose looks are the result of being horribly mistreated at the hands of man.

Abuse, it seems to me, should not be connected to pageantry and cash prizes, no matter how circuitous that link is.

Yesterday, I watched a local TV report about Peanut winning the contest. The anchor people, while noting Peanut had an inner beauty, laughed and joked about his appearance, as I’m sure the crowd did at the contest.

Peanut beat 24 other dogs to win the contest Friday, receiving more than double the votes the second-place dog received.

While his owner seemed sincere in her purpose, and probably did raise awareness about animal abuse, I can’t help but wonder whether we should all be chuckling — even while feeling sympathy and love for Peanut — at his appearance, at his prominent teeth, or his eyes that never close, given it was all the result of a cruel criminal act.

On the other hand, the world should know Peanut’s story — and the contest was a way to make that happen.

Maybe, though, there are better, more dignified ways, such as writing a book, or taking him to schools, or sharing his story with the news media — ways that might avoid the appearance of exploitation and have a little less of the circus atmosphere that seems, in my mind at least, to clash with serious nature of animal abuse.

I doubt there is any danger of people disfiguring their dogs in hopes of winning the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, but — given the world can be pretty ugly — stranger things have happened.

I think it would be wise, and in good taste, for contest officials to impose and enforce a ban on dogs whose “ugliness” or unusual looks are a result of actions taken by humans — whether those actions are heinous criminal acts or cosmetic steps, like dyeing, taken for amusement purposes.

While the contest’s web page states that “all the dogs must provide a veterinarian’s paperwork asserting that they are healthy and are ‘naturally ugly,’ Peanut’s victory casts some doubt on how strongly that’s being enforced.

All that said, I don’t find any fault with Chandler entering Peanut in the contest. She was on a mission. She made her point.

Maybe the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, after 25 years, has made its point too. A cute and well-intentioned gimmick with a sweet message, it might be growing into a bit of a monster. Maybe it should fade way before it becomes too Westminstery.

I have problems with contests that award people, or dogs, for good looks and conformity. Maybe I have issues with awarding them for “bad” looks and non-conformity, too.

Definitely I don’t like the idea of people laughing and finding amusement in a dog’s misery, which, in a very distant, removed and indirect way, is what’s going on.

That’s the best I can do at explaining the ill-at-ease feeling Peanut’s victory gives me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Photo: From Holly Chandler’s Gofundme page)

Pit bull wins national “hero dog” award

elle

Elle, a 5-year-old pit bull who helps children become more confident about reading, has been named the 2103 Hero Dog by the American Humane Association.

But it wasn’t just her listening skills that won her the honor. She also helps teach children about dog safety, and overcoming prejudice and stereotypes – “something a pit bull knows too much about,” the association noted in announcing the award.

The therapy dog and her owner started a reading program called “Tail Wagging Tales”  that helps students at two North Carolina schools — Vaughan Elementary in Macon and Chaloner Middle School in Roanoke Rapids — become stronger readers. Students take turns reading out loud to Elle for 20 minutes.

“She provides confidence for students and a comforting ear,” Leah Brewer, 42, told TODAY.com.

Elle and the other finalists for the American Humane Association award attended a ceremony Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It will air as a 90-minute special on the Hallmark Channel on Oct. 30.

After a six-month natonwide search, 141 dogs from across the country were nominated. More than one million Americans cast votes for the eight finalists online. Those results, along with the choices of a panel of celebrity judges and animals activists, were combined to determine the winner.

Among other nominees were Carlos, an explosive detector dog who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan; John D, a rescue dog who uses his scenting capabilities to detect cancer in patients; Cassidy, a three-legged dog who visits rehabilitation centers to comfort children with disabilities; and Lola, a rescued guide dog who connects her deaf owner to the surrounding world.

“Choosing a top dog is difficult because they are all so terrific, but we are proud to announce Elle as the top American Hero Dog for 2013,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association.

“As an organization that for years has fought breed-specific legislation (BSL), we are also pleased to honor a breed that has been often been unjustly maligned. We hope that Elle’s story will help to underscore the many tremendously positive qualities of this breed.”

(Photo: American Humane Association)

“Last Minutes wih Oden”

The short documentary above — and, be warned, it will make you cry — chronicles the last minutes of a dog named Oden.

One of more than 6,500 submissions from thousands of artists and filmmakers, “Last Minutes with Oden” won top honors in a video contest sponsored by Vimeo, the online video sharing website.

The video focuses on Jason Wood and his dog Oden, who got cancer and had a leg amputated last year. But the cancer spread, leading Wood to make the anguishing decision to put down the dog who taught him how to love.

The video by Eliot Rausch documents the last day of Oden’s life. Vimeo’s panel of judges named it the best documentary, and the best video, and Vimeo presented the owners with a grant of $25,000. The awards were presented last month in New York City.

Jeremy Boxer, Co-Director of the Vimeo Festival + Awards called the video “one of those rare, intimate shorts that leads with its heart and soul.”

Pets on Parade at the Visionary Museum

“The best dog-gone parade” in Baltimore is coming up this weekend.

That’s how the American Visionary Art Museum is billing its annual “Pets on Parade” event at 10 a.m. this 4th of July Sunday (with registration starting at 9:30 a.m.).

Participants are invited to dress their pet and compete for trophies that will include Best Costume, Most Patriotic Pet and Most Visionary Pet. Honors will also be given for best pet tricks and owner and pet look-alikes.

Pets of all kinds (on leashes) are welcome and the event is free.

The museum promises plenty of shade and water.

With temperatures in the mid-90s predicted, lightweight costumes — such as this Elvis outfit Frankie wore a few years back — might be a good idea. And, cute as your dog might be in his get-up, removing the costume after the competition and allowing him a dip in the baby pools might also advisable.