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Tag: book

Creator of “Where’s Spot?” dies at 86

hillEric Hill, whose children’s books about a mischievous dog named Spot sold more than 60 million copies, died last Friday at his home in central California.

Hill, whose first book, “Where’s Spot?” was published in 1980, passed away after a short illness, according to Adele Minchin, a spokeswoman for his publisher, Penguin Children’s Group.

The book told the story of Spot’s mother, Sally, as she searched for him around the house, finding a hippo, a lion and other creatures along the way.

Hill was born in England. His career as an illustrator began when he became an errand boy at an illustration studio during World War II, which led to a position at an advertising agency, according to the Associated Press

While freelancing as a creative marketing designer in the late 1970s, he drew a picture of a puppy using his now-famous flap innovation, which fascinated his 3-year-old son, Christopher.

He was so pleased with his son’s reaction to his work that he invented a story to go along with it, which, eventually, became the highly successful “Spot the Dog.”

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That came after countless rejections from publishers who were wary of  his use of paper flaps to hide parts of his illustrations — such as a flap in the shape of a door that is lifted to reveal a grizzly bear.

“Familiar as we are today with a children’s book market where flaps, pop-ups and all kinds of novelty and interactivity are taken for granted, it is hard to recall what an extraordinarily innovative concept this was in the late 1970s,” Minchin said in a statement.

“At that time, Eric’s idea was so different that it took a long while before anyone was brave enough to consider publishing his first book about Spot,” she said.

“Where’s Spot?” was followed by “Spot’s First Walk,” “Spot Goes to the Beach” and many others.

Hill, who moved with his family to the United States in the 1980s, is survived by his wife, Gillian; his son, Christopher; and his daughter, Jane.

UK’s first canine clone is born in Seoul

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With more than 500 canine clones now roaming the world, you wouldn’t think the fact that one has been produced for a pet owner in the UK would make such a big splash.

But it has, and a big splash is just what the cloners had in mind.

To introduce its unique service to Britain, Sooam Biotech, the South Korean laboratory that’s now the only company cloning dogs, borrowed from an earlier chapter in dog cloning’s bizarre history. It held a public contest, awarding a free cloning as the grand prize.

The winner: Rebecca Smith, 29, of London, who learned in late March that a clone of her 12-year-old dachshund Winnie had been born in a Seoul laboratory, BBC reported.

She named the dog Mini Winnie.

The competition saw dog owners submit videos of their dogs and compete for the chance to “immortalize” their pet for free. The bill for dog cloning normally runs around $100,000.

“Sooam Biotech is looking for one person with the most special and inspiring reason for cloning his/her beloved dog,” the company said in announcing the contest.

The contest was similar to one held in the U.S. when dog cloning first hit the market. It was called the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” and the winner was TrakR, a search and rescue dog whose owner said the German shepherd found the last survivor in the rubble of 9/11.

The weird and wacky story of how dog cloning was achieved, how it was marketed, and the first customers to sign up for it can be found in my book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

The UK’s first canine clone — who won’t arrive in the country until after a 6-month quarantine period — was cloned at Sooam Biotech, a laboratory run by Hwang Woo Suk, who was a member of the Seoul National University team that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy, in 2005.

That research began after an earlier effort to clone a dog in the U.S., at Texas A&M University, was unsuccessful.

The Texas A&M research was funded by John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix. After cloning a cat, and assorted farm animals, the Texas A&M efforts to clone a dog were called off, but Sperling’s front man, who had established a company to store the cells of dead and dying dogs (Genetic Savings & Clone), even before dog cloning was achieved, later teamed up Hwang and Sooam to offer an online auction, with the highest bidders receiving clones of their dogs.

SONY DSCHwang founded his lab after getting fired from Seoul National University when his claim to have produced the world’s first cloned human embryos was deemed fraudulent. He was later convicted of embezzling research funds and illegally buying human eggs, but his 18-month sentence was suspended.

Hwang has more recently has embarked on trying to clone a woolly mammoth from 10,00-year-old remains found frozen in Siberia.

Meanwhile, he’s churning out laboratory-created dogs, more than 500 of which have been born to surrogate mother dogs at his lab and kennel.

To create Mini Winnie, a piece of skin was taken from Winnie and transported to Seoul. Cells from the sample were placed inside an anonymous donor dog’s egg cell and, with a jolt of electricity, they merged.

Then the embryo was implanted inside a surrogate dog that gave birth, via Caesarean, to Winnie on March 30.

“The world would be a better place with more Winnies in it,” Smith, 29, says in a Channel 4 documentary, “The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

smithandwinnieSmith received the original Winnie as a present on her 18th birthday, and she says the dog helped her overcome “lots of demons,” including an eating disorder. Smith says Mini Winnie looks identical to the original, who is old and arthritic, but still alive.

Hundreds of pet owners have had dogs cloned since the first customer, a California woman who received five copies of her dead pit bull, Booger.

Critics of the process say cloning doesn’t result in the resurrection of an animal, but a laboratory-made twin, whose creation requires the involvement of numerous other dogs, and who might not act like the original at all.

Initially, two South Korean companies were cloning dogs for pet owners (and even more for research purposes), but one of the, RNL Bio, has pulled out of the dog-cloning business.

While the cloning process has grown more efficient, some animal welfare groups say risks are still high.

Dr Katy Taylor, Head of Science at The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: “Cloning is a very unpredictable and extremely wasteful process … In order to produce just one ‘perfect’ clone, many puppies with the same genes as a loved animal will be born … Some of these puppies will be aborted or will die soon after birth from unpredictable health complications and severe birth defects.”

Defective pups, and the South Korean laboratory’s failure to follow animal welfare protocols, were among the reasons cited by the American company that teamed up with Hwang for pulling out of its dog cloning arrangement.

The documentary, while it mostly follows the judges as they visit with contestants and their dogs, does go some interesting places, including Edinburg, for an interview with Sir Ian Wilmut, cloner of Dolly the sheep. Wilmut doesn’t endorse pet cloning, and says he remains skeptical of it, saying it will lead to lots of disappointed customers who, despite their hopes, won’t get an animal with the same personality as the original.

There’s also an interview with a pet owner, not a contestant, who views dog cloning as a Hitleresque pursuit, and there are several allusions to the fact that some Koreans eat dog meat.

“The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend” was made by the same independent production company that produced “I Cloned My Pet,” several episodes of which appeared on TLC.

“The £60,000 Puppy” is an improvement over those productions, which brushed aside most ethical questions and animal welfare concerns about pet cloning. While the new documentary doesn’t delve too deeply into them either, it does present something more than a one-sided view.

Like the earlier documentaries, it reinforces that most customers of dog cloning are, shall we say, eccentric sorts, and that their attachment to their dogs — as with all of us — is a powerful one.

Perhaps the most telling moment, though, comes as the judges debate — American Idol style — the public relations benefits of each contestant.

After that, the winner is … after a long, long pause … announced.

Cloning, it seems, is no longer some futuristic pipedream. It has become a reality, and apparently an entertainment form.

My view? Cloning is no game show, or at least it shouldn’t be.

(Photos: Top, Mini Winnie / Channel 4; middle, Hwang in his lab / John Woestendiek; bottom; Smith and the original Winnie / Channel 4)

Miley sings to giant statue of her dead dog

This video loses its audio about two-thirds of the way through, but it’s enough for you to get the point.

Which is either (A) Miley Cyrus misses her dog, or (B) Miley Cyrus wants to be sure everyone knows how much she misses her dog.

Floyd, an Alaskan Klee Kai that Cyrus had owned since 2011, died April 1. While repeatedly tweeting about the pain that has caused her,  Cyrus has been hesitant to describe what caused the dog’s death. It is now believed to have been a coyote attack.

floydAt a concert Saturday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Cyrus sang “Can’t Be Tamed” to a giant, glowing-eyed,  inflatable likeness of the dog.

Afterwards, Cyrus told the audience, “That was the hardest song of the night to do … as y’all know, because I lost my Floydie this week … Sometimes I just can’t stop from breaking down crying.”

It was the second appearance Cyrus has made with the statue, the first coming in a performance in Boston last week.

I sympathize with the singer, and offer my condolences, but I can’t help but notice in her all the same traits I noticed in customers of dog cloning, when I wrote a book on the subject.

She has yet to seek to bring back a laboratory-created copy of a dead dog, as far as I know. But, like most of the early customers who did, she’s wealthy, eccentric, perhaps a tad selfish, wants to control the uncontrollable, and seems to think her grief is somehow larger than anyone else’s.

I can’t help being turned off by those who need to shine a spotlight on their mourning. Call me old fashioned, but I think that should mostly be done in private. Cyrus, it seems, has decided to take her grief — like her navel and tongue and other body parts — public.

In recent years, the singer has gone through dogs at a rapid pace.

In 2012, Cyrus rescued a dog she found abandoned outside a Walmart, and named him Happy. He joined her other three dogs, Floyd, Lila and Ziggy.

A few months later, Lila died of initially undisclosed causes, though Cyrus’ mother later revealed Lila died of injuries received when she was attacked by Ziggy, and that Ziggy had been gotten rid of.

mileyfloydAs she was then, Cyrus was very public, but offered few details, when it came to Floyd’s passing.

The facts behind the dog’s death weren’t revealed until one of her backup dancers posted some photos on Instagram, along with the explanation that Floyd had been the victim of a coyote attack at home while Cyrus was on tour.

Since Floyd’s death, her mother has given her a new puppy, named Moonie.

(Photos: Top, Miley in concert in Brooklyn; bottom, Miley with Floyd;  via Twitter)

Another unlikely friendship: A dog and a fox

dogandfox1

We humans, with our vastly superior intellects, and being the far more evolved and civilized species, don’t need no stinkin’ animals to show us how to live life.

Do we?

You’d think not — especially with Christmas approaching. Between all the peace, good will and fellowship the season supposedly brings, and all the attention, with his death, on Nelson Mandela’s legacy of kindness and forgiveness, we shouldn’t be needing, right now, any furry creatures reminding us bigger-brained, two-legged types how to get along with each other.

Yet, in the past month, they seem to keep doing so — almost as if they think the message has failed to get through.

First, it’s a goose and a dog partnering up in the UK. Then it’s an elk and a dog becoming backyard playmates in Washington state. Both pairs were shown at play, raising the question, at least in some heads, if animals of different sizes and species — like elephants and dogs, or cats and crows – can get along with each other, why can’t we?

Now comes this latest pair, a fox and a dog in Norway who met in the woods last summer and became fast friends.

dogandfox2

Norwegian photographer Torgeir Berge was out for a walk with his four-year-old German shepherd, Tinni, when they encountered an abandoned baby fox. Since then the fox, which Berge named Sniffer, has regularly met up with them on their trips through the woods, and Berge has been taking pictures of the get-togethers.

Now he’s working on a book about the unlikely friendship with writer Berit Helberg, who told TODAY.com that the fox was probably an orphan whose mother had died, and was probably seeking food, help and company.

“Not many people are privileged to see and enjoy a friendship like this, but Torgeir Berge has both seen them in action and gotten the opportunity to catch this in images that don’t need words,” Helberg wrote in post. They hope the story will raise awareness for animal rights and the conditions that some animals are forced live in as a result of the fur trade, Helberg said.

dogandfox3

Yes, animals of different species far more often kill and eat each other to survive. And these unlikely interspecies friendships, seemingly choreographed from the grave (or wherever he is) of Walt Disney, are the exception. It’s not like animals got together and said ”Let’s rethink this whole survival of the fittest thing, and live together in harmony, eating wild berries.”

It was from animals, after all, that we most likely learned that mindset — that the world belongs to the fittest, richest or whoever roars the loudest.

Heartwarming as these unlikely friendship stories are, they’re not messages being sent to humans by animals.

But, particularly at Christmas, they are messages worth receiving, and learning from.

(Photos by Torgeir Berge, via Today.com)

Shake: When dogs let the fur fly

As stunning as Carli Davidson’s photographs are in “SHAKE” — a new book featuring dogs caught in the middle of letting the fur (and drool) fly — this video produced in conjunction with her may be even more breathtaking.

SHAKE, the book, was released today by HarperCollins. Inspired by Davidson’s own dog, a mastiff named Norbert, who regularly flings drool at her home, it presents more than 130 full-page portraits of dogs shaking off water. The photos began showing up on the Internet in 2012, went viral, and were shaped into a book.

As a side project, Davidson worked with Variable, a New York production company, to produce the video.

shakeThe still photos are magnificent, capturing dogs in a millisecond –  their heads caught in mid-swivel, their ears in mid flap, their jowls contorted, their fur frozen in flight, and their slung streams of drool stopped in mid-air.

The slow-motion video, though, shows the whole intricate dance – and how the simple act of a dog shaking is really pretty complex. Exactly how many different muscles, going in how many different directions, does doing that take? And how is it possible to be so grossly contorted and amazingly elegant at the same time?

The answer is you have to be a dog.

You, as a human, can dance with stars, dance with the devil, or dance ’til you drop, but I don’t think your moves will ever parallel what a dog is able to pull off in the simple — or not so simple — act of shaking off.

Davidson, a native of Portland, Oregon, began experimenting with taking high-speed photos of dogs shaking off water in 2011. The next year she began posting them online, and they received millions of views.

In 2012, members of the team at Variable saw Davidson’s photo series online and contacted her about making a video.

“Fortunately for us, Carli responded to our enthusiastic e-mail with an even more enthusiastic e-mail stating that she was totally down to collaborate and had a very similar vision! After months and many meetings of trying to figure out how we could even afford to make this film, we all just decided to empty our pockets, pull some serious strings, and make the video purely for the fun of it.”

Dogs with Old Man Faces

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Tom Cohen has taken some dogs with funny faces and made them funnier.

In “Dogs with Old Man Faces,” released earlier this month, Cohen has gathered photos of elderly dogs and combined them with tag lines reflecting not so much the wisdom that comes with being an old human, but the crankiness, irascibility, aches and fears – our increasing tendency, as we age, to seek out simple pleasures and our decreasing willingness to put up with annoyances.

“Muttley is worried about the future of Medicare,” reads one, next to a photo (at top of this post) of a wrinkled and anxious-looking pug.

“Duster enjoys a good knish,” reads another, accompanied by photo of a pooch whose white eyebrows hang over his eyes.

Roscoe

Each black and white image of an old dog is accompanied by a caption: ”Roscoe was one of the original Hells Angels,” reads the one accompanying the shaggy and graying dog shown above.

Dogs With Old Man Faces Book JacketWe learn that “Pedro likes Old Spice and Sinatra,” “Jack enjoys a hot cup of Sanka,” and “Chet is still upset they canceled Matlock.” Geppeto is horrified at how much things cost.  Sumo wants those kids off his lawn. Sherman smoked too much pot in the 60′s. Riley can’t wait for tonight’s early bird special. And Pepper has been advised to cut down on salt.

Dogs with Old Man Faces: Portraits of Crotchety Canines” (published by Running Press, $13.95) isn’t the consumate old dog book – Old Dogs by Gene Weingarten holds that honor, in our view  — but it is a fun and lighthearted spin that incorporates photos of salty old dogs with stereotypical (but often true) phrases  that you might hear uttered by a senior citizen of the human species.

cohenCohen, a former stand-up comedian, is a television writer and producer who has won three Emmy Awards and lives in Maryland with his own old dog. He has worked on shows for MTV, Nickelodeon, NBC, History Channel, ABC Family, and most recently, Discovery Channel, serving as executive producer, director, and head writer of the  series ”Cash Cab.”

Based on a photo we found of him, he doesn’t quite have an old man face yet, but appears to be working on it.

(Photos: From “Dogs with Old Man Faces.” Top photo (Muttley) by Richard Dudley; photo of Roscoe by Tom Cohen) 

Dogs are people too, researcher says

howdogsloveusA neuroscientist who has been spent two years trying to scan images of their brains says dogs seem to have feelings and emotions, not unlike those of a human child.

Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, has been able to scan the brains of a dozen dogs using an M.R.I, which is quite an achievement in itself. But in looking at those scans he says he has reached the conclusion that,  “Dogs are people, too.” 

“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child,” he wrote in an op-ed piece that appeared in Saturday’s New York Times. “And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.”

Berns’ research, which started with his own adopted dog Callie, is detailed in his soon to be released book “How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain.”

Bern set out to determine how dogs’ brains work, and what they might be thinking. To that end, he began training dogs to undergo — and stay still during —  M.R.I. scans, willingly and while awake and unrestrained.

“Conventional veterinary practice says you have to anesthetize animals so they don’t move during a scan. But you can’t study brain function in an anesthetized animal,” he notes. “At least not anything interesting like perception or emotion.”

Initially, he worked with his own dog, Callie,  a black terrier mix he adopted from a shelter, using a simulated M.R.I. he built in his living room. As word spread about his research, others volunteered their pets and Berns soon had a dozen dogs “M.R.I.-certified.”

“After months of training and some trial-and-error at the real M.R.I. scanner, we were rewarded with the first maps of brain activity. For our first tests, we measured Callie’s brain response to two hand signals in the scanner. In later experiments, not yet published, we determined which parts of her brain distinguished the scents of familiar and unfamiliar dogs and humans.”

Berns and his team focused on a key brain region called  the caudate nucleus, which sits between the brainstem and the cortex. In humans, the caudate, rich in dopamine receptors, plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love and money. Same with dogs — except, we’re pretty sure, for the money part.

“Specific parts of the caudate stand out for their consistent activation to many things that humans enjoy,” he says. “Caudate activation is so consistent that under the right circumstances, it can predict our preferences for food, music and even beauty … In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view.”

Berns believes the scans will tell us more than behavioral observations do about what dogs are thinking.

“Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite,” Berns wrote. “But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate.”

That “functional homology,” as neuroscientists call it, may be an indication of canine emotions.

And given that, he asks, is it time to stop considering them property and start affording them some rights as individuals?

“If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation,” he says. “Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.”

That day may not be directly around the corner, he notes, but with more being learned about how their brains work, and what thoughts run through them, it could eventually arrive.

“Perhaps someday,” he says, “we may see a case arguing for a dog’s rights based on brain-imaging findings.”

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