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Tag: bombs

Bomb-sniffing dogs coming to Ohio campuses

osu

I’m all for dogs on college campuses, and all for campus security.

But news that the governor of Ohio wants every campus in the state to have its own bomb-sniffing dog troubles me — mostly for what it says about our times.

Youngstown State University was presented a bomb-sniffing dog Monday as part of a pilot program that officials eventually hope to expand throughout the state’s public universities, the Associated Press reported.

Bomb sniffing dogs were to be presented at Ohio State University yesterday and at Bowling Green State University today.

Kent State University already has one, and wants to get another.

Ohio’s public safety director, John Born, says it’s all part of Gov. John Kasich’s plans to strengthen school safety for students — from preschool to college age.

Born says the dogs can respond to threats and conduct security sweeps for large-scale events, such as athletic games or visits by dignitaries.

It costs more than $12,700 to buy each animal and pay for initial training and equipment. Ohio Homeland Security is covering the costs with federal grant money.

The universities provide the officers who become the dogs’ full-time handlers.

“There’s just not enough explosives dogs in the state for the need depending on where you are, so this is hopefully the beginning of a more comprehensive effort,” Born said.

Participating universities have to agree that the dogs will be available if there is an off-campus need, such as a threat at a high school.

(Photo: Ohio State University police officer Joanna Shaul and her canine, courtesy of Ohio State University)

Taliban show off captured military dog

The military dog captured by the Taliban — and shown off by his captors on a video posted on the Internet — was apparently attached to a British special forces unit.

While the Taliban identified their captive as a U.S. dog, military sources who asked not to be identified say the bomb-sniffing dog was British, and that it disappeared after a deadly firefight in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province on Dec. 23, according to the Washington Post.

Officials  at the Pentagon said it is the first time they recall a military dog being taken captive.

The British Defense Ministry has not confirmed the nationality of the dog.

In the video, the dog, believed to a Belgian Malinois, stands amid a group of heavily armed men, appearing confused at times, tentatively wagging its tail at others.

“Allah gave victory to the mujahideen!” one of the fighters says in the video, adding, in apparent reference to U.S. forces, “Down with them, down with their spies!”

The dog wears a black protective vest, which was oufitted with what the Taliban said were sophisticated electronic devices.

The video was posted on the Internet Feb. 5 via a Twitter account often used to disseminate Taliban propaganda.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the dog was captured after a firefight between coalition forces and Taliban fighters in the Alin Nigar district of Afghanistan’s Laghman province in late December.

“The mujahideen valorously put tough resistance against the troops for hours,” he said. “The dog was of high significance to the Americans.”

U.S. Special Operations troops often use the Belgian Malinois, some of which have been trained to parachute and rappel with their handlers.

A Belgian Malinois was among the members of the special forces team that found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

Pet Rescue Saga: How I single-handedly saved hundreds of pets from being crushed

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I rescued dozens, possibly hundreds, of pets from certain death the other night.

But before you call me a hero, or saint, you should know I only did it on Facebook, and only in a video game.

Pet Rescue Saga is the popular new puzzle game, downloaded more than 150 million times and playable on Facebook and through apps. It’s free, at first,  but then, like a drug dealer who has handed out samples to get new clients hooked, it starts charging you to play more, or play more effectively, or to reach greater highs.

The game comes from King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, which is similar and reportedly equally addictive.

When invitations to play Pet Rescue Saga first started showing up on my Facebook page, I wrongly assumed — given most of my Facebook friends are die-hard, do-gooding animal lovers — that it was a game that somehow was related to, or benefited, animal welfare causes.

It’s not, and it doesn’t.

There might be some unintentional similarities to the real world of animal rescue, such as walls being put up in front of you, and things piling up faster than you can handle them. But “Pet Rescue Saga” isn’t about rescuing pets in the animal welfare sense of the word. It’s mainly about busting blocks, and then more blocks, and then more blocks, by clicking on them to ensure that the “adorable” little pets atop them don’t get squished.

Given video games have a reputation for catering to our basest instincts — chopping off heads, running people over in cars and the like —  I had hopes, especially when Facebook friends kept inviting me to play, that this one might actually be about a noble pursuit, or might even be educational.

No such luck. What it teaches us about pet rescue is that we can save animals by matching two or more blocks of the same color.

Still, I ended up spending an hour playing it on Facebook, which annoyingly notified me to “share” every time I passed some friend’s record, before it got to the point where further play would require an investment of money. (That — having to fork up some money — generally prevents and/or cures any addictions to which I might fall victim.)

There are hundreds of levels of the game, and the higher you go (or the more you spend) the more tools you get to “save pets” — like sizzling rockets, hammers and exploding bombs.

In playing it, one becomes so focused on the blocks that he forgets about the animals. The endangered animals really seem a well-contrived afterthought, as if the gamemakers thought putting pets in need of rescue atop the stacks of blocks — as opposed to pots of gold or damsels in distress — might give it some relevance, or, pet rescue being a popular cause, add to its popularity.

“Wait! Don’t forget about the animals! ” says a review of the game on gamezebo.com. “Some levels of Pet Rescue Saga have dogs, pigs, and pigeons trapped on stacks of blocks, or wedged in columns. When you successfully clear away blocks, said animals drop safely to the ground. However, since many levels of Pet Rescue Saga scroll vertically, the animals on tall columns are in constant danger of getting squished on the top of the screen. Nothing ruins your day like the anguished squeal of a piglet.”

Squishing aside, it’s nice to see a game that’s seemingly about rescuing and saving, as opposed to killing and maiming.

It would be much nicer to see a game that was really about rescuing and saving animals, or that really taught compassion, or at least tried to.

I’m not necessarily saying the makers and marketers of the game are trying to capitalize on tender-hearted pet lovers, or that they mislead people to think the game might have some legitimate connection to the actual world of animal rescue.

But, after playing the game, I did start receiving emails from the gamemaker — far too many emails — with subject lines like: “Pets in danger. Help them now!” Clicking on the link in the email took me directly to the game’s Facebook app.

I don’t keep up much anymore with the latest developments in video games. So I don’t know if phony altruism is the latest video game trend: Bust up the blocks and find a cure for cancer. Bust up the blocks to feed the starving children.

Maybe there are some truly altruistic video games out there. The Game Show Network came close to that last month when it introduced Pet Pals Slots, a limited-edition game on Facebook. It earmarked a portion of money made from gameplay in November — up to $30,000 — to go to Best Friends Animal Society, providing food, medical care and shelter for animals at the organization’s Utah sanctuary. In other words, while playing a mostly mindless game, those who played Pet Pals Slots, at least in a way, were saving pets.

Video games, with exceptions, are rarely educational, and I don’t really expect them to serve as our moral compass. (More often they seem aimed at sending that compass haywire.)

And of course they’re not obligated to share the wealth they make with any deserving causes they borrow their themes from.

But how cool would it be to see — in addition to less squishing — more of that?

“60 Minutes” on bomb-sniffing dogs

60 Minutes looked at bomb-sniffing dogs in a report that, especially given last night’s other featured stories — on the Marathon bombing and the 9/11 Memorial — brought home not just how many lives they’ve saved in the military overseas, but how many more they might save here.

Reporter Lara Logan focused on the dogs of war, and the trainers that describe their canines as nearly infallible when it comes to detecting bombs.

But they’re not so infallible when explosive devices are planted after the dogs have made their sweeps, as apparently was the case at the Boston Marathon.

“Would an average police dog have found these bombs at the Boston Marathon …?” she asked trainer Mike Ritland.

“…Based on what I do know, yes,” Ritland said. “If dogs went through the areas where they were placed– you know, your average, certified police bomb dog should have found them. My thoughts are if these guys (the suspects) are paying close attention to these dogs, they’re waiting. And when the dogs leave, they bring it in, they hand– they infiltrate, essentially, they drop it right where it’s busy, and very soon after, it detonates.”

As the “60 Minutes” piece pointed out, since 9/11 dogs have been used more than ever because nothing is more effective in finding hidden bombs. Dogs in the employ of the military and FBI have sniffed out bombs, captured enemies, and one assisted Navy SEAL Team 6 when it took down Osama bin Laden. Much more of what they do, given the often secretive nature of their work, never becomes known.

“The best of them serve with U.S. Special Operations and they’re in a league of their own,” Logan noted. “It’s nearly impossible to get anyone to talk about them publicly because much of what they do is classified, but we were able to talk to the people who train them for this story. We took the opportunity to ask about what might have happened in Boston while getting a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of America’s most elite dogs.”

(One member of the “60 Minutes” team — in a segment not shown on the air but featured on 60minutesovertime.com — even volunteered to be chased down by a military dog in training in Texas. Producer Reuben Heyman-Kantor, in the video above, tried to outrun the dog, but was brought down quickly.)

In her interview with former Navy SEAL Ritland, who now finds and trains dogs for Special Operations and top tier units in the FBI, Logan asked, “What can these dogs do on the streets of America?”

“The very same thing that they do for our boys overseas in that they detect explosives– they are a fantastic deterrent– they use their nose to find, you know, people as well,” Ritland said.

“Everybody knows that dogs can smell better than humans but what they don’t realize is that if you and I walk into the kitchen and there’s a pot of beef stew on the counter, you and I smell beef stew. A dog smells potatoes, carrots, beef, onion, celery, gravy, flour. They smell each and every individual component of everything that’s in that beef stew. And they can separate everyone one of those. You can’t hide anything from them. It won’t work because you can’t fool a dog’s nose.”

Ritland now trains dogs on his 20-acre ranch in rural Cooper, Texas, runs the Warrior Dog Foundation for retired war dogs, and is the author of “Trident K9 Warriors: My Tale From the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines.”

Ritland says its important — amid these days of budget cuts — to remember what lifesavers the dogs can be, both in wars and at home.

In Afghanistan, according to the report, 42 dogs have been killed in action. They’ve become so effective that the enemy is singling them out. A Taliban commander told “60 Minutes” that on his last operation they were ordered to open fire on the American dogs first, and deal with the soldiers next.

Logan visited what she said was one of only three breeders in the U.S. who produce dogs — almost always the Belgian Malinois — for top tier military units.

She also interviewed Green Beret Chris Corbin who, along with his dog Ax, almost died on their final mission in Afghanistan.

Corbin said he missed a signal from the dog while searching for mines. Ax was alerting to Corbin’s foot, but Corbin realized it too late. He lost both his lower legs. Ax was not wounded. Both returned to duty.

Ax was at Corbin’s side during the interview, and rarely took his eyes off his former partner as he described their first reunion after the blast.

“I just said something simple. ‘Hey, where’s my boy at?’ and he stopped. He froze. He looked around. And he went into a panic until he found me and he jumped on my legs. Painful. Just– I was just happy to see him. I didn’t care how much it hurt.”

Soldier and his dog die hours apart

Three hours after Lance Corporal  Liam Tasker was shot and killed in Afghanistan, his bomb-sniffing dog suffered a seizure and died.

Tasker, of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, was shot while on patrol in Helmand province on March 1. His bomb-sniffing springer spaniel, Theo — though not physically injured in that incident —  died three hours later.

“I would like to believe he (Theo) died of a broken heart to be with Liam,” said Tasker’s mother, Jane Duffy.

This week, as the soldier’s body came home, hundreds of mourners lined the main street to pay respects to both dog and master, the Telegraph reported.

The body of Tasker, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, and the ashes of Theo had earlier been flown back in the same aircraft.

Tasker suffered fatal injuries in a firefight with the Taliban, while Theo died after returning to Camp Bastion, the main British military base. Tasker was the 358th member of the British Armed Forces to die since operations in Afghanistan began; Theo was the sixth British military dog killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

Theo, not quite two years old, had drawn praise for detecting 14 hidden bombs and weapons caches in just five months on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. His  success at finding Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) led to his stay in the country being extended for a month.

Tasker was said to have a “natural empathy with dogs” and was described as a “rising star” within the dog training group. The pair were said to be “made for each other.”

Iraq seeing influx of dogs, but not as pets

iraqdogIraq, a country not very welcoming to dogs, will be welcoming more than 1,000 of them in the next five years — all trained to sniff bombs and assigned to the Iraqi police force.

“Iraqis are not fully comfortable with dogs yet,” says Brig. Gen. Mohammad Mesheb Hajea, who is in charge of the Interior Ministry’s fledgling K-9 unit. “But the people are coming to love them, because they realize what they can do to keep us safe.”

Twenty-five dogs and their human handlers graduated earlier this month from Baghdad Police College’s newly created K-9 course, USA Today reports. And 120 more bomb-sniffing German shepherds, Malinois and Labradors are scheduled to be incorporated into Iraq’s police force by the end of this year.

As in many Muslim countries, Iraqis generally see dogs as unclean animals who shouldn’t be allowed in the home.

But authorities says Iraqis are recognizing the contribution canines can make.

“There is no better investment to countering the threats of bombs and explosives,” said Col. Randy Twitchell, chief U.S. military adviser to the Baghdad Police College. “The Iraqi security forces are recognizing how useful a role that dogs can play in securing the country.”

The U.S. military is paying for the dogs — $12,000 each.

The American advice to bulk up the K-9 units was initially met with resistance.

The vast majority of bomb-sniffing dogs now being used at Iraq’s airports are owned by foreign contractors. Those contractors will be phased out and replaced by Iraqi government-owned dogs and their police handlers, Hajea said.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Are dogs the answer to lax airport security?

Could dogs have prevented Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab from boarding a plane with explosives hidden in his underwear?

CNN asked the question yesterday — the answer to which is, with enough properly trained dogs, probably.

But explosives-detecting dogs, the report points out, aren’t generally trained to sniff out humans, and having them do so might raise some privacy concerns.

Still, those quoted in the report say, something as low-tech as dogs could be our best solution to the problem.

“The fact that this individual showed up with a one-way ticket, purchased with cash and no checked baggage — he should have been pulled aside,” said security expert Larry Berg, a consultant with Berg Associates. “And at that point, if inspected by a dog, he literally could have been detected.”

“A well-trained dog and a very good, well-trained handler can find explosives with little or no false alarms,” said trainer Patrick Beltz said. “And if they had been doing it, it might have deterred him from trying to get on the plane in the first place.”

About 700 bomb-sniffing dogs currently work at U.S. airports, and they are trained to detect up to a dozen different explosive compounds, including PETN, the compound that AbdulMutallab is alleged to have smuggled aboard Northwest flight 253 to Detroit on December 25.

The report also looks at research underway at Auburn University in Alabama, where dogs are being used to sniff not people, but the air they leave in their wake when they pass by. The Auburn trainers believe their dogs can detect very small traces of explosives and then follow the trail to the person carrying a bomb.