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Tag: business

NY council member calls for Wag probe

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Wag, an Uber-like app that pairs dogs with walkers, is getting more heat in New York, with city council members calling for an investigation into its dismal safety record.

Lawmakers and animal-rights advocates say Wag walkers have lost as least seven New York dogs since 2015 — four in the last two months.

“I have reached out to the Department of Consumer Affairs to investigate Wag immediately,” Councilman Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), a former animal-welfare advocate. “I feel absolutely terrible for these animal lovers and what they’ve been through. Clearly, Wag’s vetting process is a joke. Maybe this kind of thing flies in West Hollywood but it doesn’t fly here in New York City.”

According to the New York Post, dogs who escaped from Wag walkers in February included an Upper East Side Chihuahua named Norman, who slipped out of his harness and is still missing, and a goldendoodle named Simba who darted from his walker and was hit by a car.

New York City requires dogsitters to be licensed, but there are no rules governing walkers.

“There aren’t any regulations and there should be,” said Manhattan animal-rights lawyer Susan Chana Lask. “You can’t be the ‘Uber for Dogs’ without some kind of licensing — we already know what happened with Uber.”

Wag says its walkers must pass a background check, complete a rigorous online dog-safety and dog-knowledge test and attend an in-person orientation.

The Post reported that their are rumblings among state lawmakers as well that Wag might be worthy of some scrutiny.

“There’s a good possibility we may need some extra regulations and guidelines,” said state Sen. James Tedisco, who represents Schenectady.

(Photo: Teddy, a dog that went temporarily missing while under the care of Wag in December 2017; Facebook)

Barbara Streisand has cloned her dog twice

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Having literally written the book on the first customers of dog cloning, and having tried to keep you posted since then on developments in that morbid and exploitative business, I must report here on one of its newest customers.

Barbra Streisand.

In a far-ranging interview with Variety, the singer and show business legend revealed that her dogs Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett are both clones of her original Coton du Tulear, Samantha.

Samantha, who commonly accompanied Streisand to concerts and public appearances, and who had her own Instagram fans, died last fall at the age of 14.

In the Variety article, Streisand offered few specifics on how she made the decision to clone, or on the process itself, but either Samantha’s corpse, or cell samples from it, were sent to South Korea where they were cloned in a private lab operated by a once-disgraced scientist — the same one who was involved in the world’s first canine cloning.

Her two new pups were cloned at Sooam Biotech, using cells extracted from Samantha’s mouth and stomach.

In the process, the donor cells are merged with egg cells extracted from other dogs, zapped with an electrical current to spur splitting, then implanted in more dogs who serve as surrogates, carrying the embryos to pregnancy.

Often surplus clones result — those that don’t have the exact same markings. Through cloning’s development, death and deformities resulted as well. Animal welfare groups frown on the practice, because of the intrusive procedures the other dogs go through, and because it is generally quite easy to simply adopt a dog that looks like the one you just lost.

Streisand, from what I’ve read about her, seems to fit the common mold of dog cloning’s earliest customers — wealthy eccentrics unwilling to accept nature taking something away from them, who feel they have every right to get it back, no matter how much pain and suffering other dogs might go through for that to be achieved.

They weren’t all wealthy — including the very first customer — but they all were controlling sorts who often didn’t even recognize the utter selfishness of what they were doing.

They were also, early on, misled by the dog cloning companies that formed after the successful cloning of Snuppy in South Korea in 2005. Not only would the clone be an exact physical replica, but it would have the same endearing traits and personality of the original, they were told by the emerging dog cloning companies.

That part was bunk, and the companies later toned down their claims. As the process became more efficient, they dropped their prices too, from $150,000, to under $100,000, with some companies now offering a price as low as $25,000.

In the Variety article, Streisand’s two clones were mentioned as an aside, much like her husband, actor James Brolin, often is.

Along with her husband of 20 years, James Brolin, there’s no one she enjoys sharing her residence with more than her three Coton de Tulear dogs. Perhaps her biggest reveal: Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett were cloned from cells taken from the mouth and stomach of her beloved 14-year-old dog Samantha, who died in 2017. Miss Fanny is a distant cousin.

“They have different personalities,” Streisand says. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness.”

Streisand, the article said, even suggested a cutline for the magazine to use with the photo they took of her and her dogs — Send in the Clones.

Streisand said that when the clones first arrived, she dressed one in red and one in lavender, so she could tell them apart. That’s what led to their names — Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet.

I don’t suspect Streisand looks at her new clones and sees in them the reincarnated soul of her original dog, as some early customers did.

I do suspect that original dog created memories she wanted to hold on to, at any cost.

Like the song she once sang, “The Way We Were,” asked:

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?

The answer is — if you have more money than you know what to do with, if you have little regard for animals other than your own, if you have a selfish streak and an ability to delude yourself — yes!

(Photo: Streisand holding Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, along with Miss Fanny (from left), who is distantly related and given to Streisand while was waiting for the clones; by Russell James / Variety)

South Korean university announces that Snuppy has been recloned

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The world’s first canine clone — an Afghan hound named Snuppy who died in 2015 — has been recloned, scientists at Seoul National University in Korea have announced.

It’s no big surprise, and it’s no huge achievement, but the scientists say they created the three clones of Snuppy to “immortalize” the “milestone” Snuppy represented — and that the clones will allow them to further study the lifespan of cloned dogs.

Snuppy, who spent most of his life in a laboratory, died at age 10 in April 2015.

“Three healthy reclones of Snuppy are alive, and as with Snuppy we do not anticipate that the reclones will go through an accelerated rate of aging or will be more prone to develop diseases than naturally bred animals,” the team wrote in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature.

To create the new clones, the scientists used fat-derived stem cells taken from Snuppy when he was five years old.

The stem cells were taken from his belly fat and frozen. Years later, they were thawed, grown in culture and then injected into enucleated eggs taken from female donors. The reconstituted eggs were then zapped with an electrical shock to fuse the membranes of the egg and stem cells. Ninety-four of them were transferred to surrogate female dogs.

Four resulted in births, but one of the pups died four days after it was born from severe diarrhea, the scientists reported.

The three remaining dogs will also live their lives in the lab, being monitored and undergoing tests the scientist say they suspect will dispel the notion that cloned animals die early deaths.

They say the second generation of Snuppy clones will contribute to a “new era” in the study of the health and longevity of cloned animals, and that they might contribute to cures being found for human diseases.

But with dog cloning having become big business — and having been initially researched with profits in mind — it’s no surprise that the latest research, funded in part by the Korean government, aims to dispel the thinking that clones live abbreviated lives.

Snuppy’s birth came eight years after Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal in 1997. Dolly died prematurely, at age six.

Snuppy

Snuppy

When Snuppy was born in 2005, Time magazine named him one of the most amazing inventions of the year. What wasn’t reported much, at least not initially, were the intrusive procedures involved, the birth defects that resulted, the surplus dogs that resulted, and the long list of animal welfare concerns about the process.

In the article written in Scientific Reports, by the researchers involved, those concerns also get short shrift.

“Animal cloning has gained popularity as a method to produce genetically identical animals or superior animals for research or industrial uses,” they write.

“There is lots of pet cloning going on right now. Owners are concerned whether their clones will live (a normal lifespan) or if they will experience accelerated aging and die early. So, there is some business concern,” said said co-author of the study CheMyong Jay Ko, of the University of Illinois.

The clones of Snuppy might also provide insights into the development of cancer and other diseases, Ko said.

(Top photo from the National Post; bottom of photo by John Woestendiek)

To read more about the birth of dog cloning and how it became a big business, read John Woestendiek’s book, “Dog, Inc.

Dog leasing: A deceptive and disgraceful practice that needs to come to an end

Historians debate whether P.T. Barnum ever really said there is a “sucker born every minute,” but never in history (I’d argue) has it been clearer than now how true that statement is.

Maybe that sucker birth rate has increased, and one is born every 10 seconds nowadays. Maybe, it’s the number of charlatans that has increased. Maybe it’s all the modern-day tools at the schemer’s disposal — Internet, infomercials, ever-slicker and more deceptive marketing techniques.

Maybe it’s our own increasing gullibility. Maybe, with our shortening attention spans, we more easily fall for double talk, and accept bald-faced lies as hard truths, and hear only what we want and have time to hear. Maybe it’s our own failure to investigate.

In any case, today, maybe more even than in Barnum’s day, you can sell anybody anything. And you can lease them even more — even a family member.

We’ve written about dog-leasing outfits several times before, going back to 2007 — when the unsavory concept first popped up.

They’ve been through many variations since then, some in the guise of do-gooders, some clearly sleazy, but all ugly at their core.

Why? Because they are all based on the concept that dogs are disposable, here to serve as many masters as we deem fit — not permanent family members, but beings to be passed around by us as need be and in the name of profit.

My earliest recollection of such a company was one called Flexpetz.

It was greeted in the media as a mostly cute idea when it debuted in 2007 — a way for people who weren’t in a position to own a dog to rent one for a few hours, a few days, or share one regularly with another client.

Making it more palatable was its claim to be hooking up dogs in need of humans with humans in need of dogs — albeit it on a temporary basis, and albeit it without much screening, of the dog or the human, or the environments they were headed into, or the reasons people needed to borrow a dog. And albeit for profit. Pretty big profits.

Flexpetz established offices in London, and had plans to open 120 locations in the U.S.

Fortunately, early on, some localities saw it for what it was — slave dogs on call to serve multiple masters. In 2008, after hearing Flexpetz planned to open a location in the city, the Boston City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting dog rentals.

Then the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that would prevent companies like FlexPetz from setting up shop anywhere in the state.

Representative Paul Frost, a dog-owner who filed the bill, says the business model promoted the idea of “disposable pets .. I am not against business growth or the entrepreneurial spirit. But there is an ethical line you have to keep in mind.”

Flexpetz would go on to close in 2008, but the concept would live on, in numerous variations. And that ethical line Frost noticed seemed to become harder for people to see.

Hannah the Pet Society was founded in Oregon in 2010, and put a new twist on things. The society promised to match you up with a dog, and provide that dog with what it called “Total Lifetime Care” — from dog food to boarding, from veterinary care to funderal arrangements.

All for a start-up fee and “low” monthly payments.

But, contrary to what many thought, those signing up for dogs weren’t really becoming their new owners. Hannah retained ownership of all the dogs it placed, which meant that it could reclaim them, or reassign them, or even euthanize them, whenever it pleased.

In 2016, Seattle Dog Spot exposed some of the questionable practices at Hannah, and an investigation began into complaints against the company that included unnecessarily euthanizing three dogs.

Many of the shelters and rescues providing dogs to the outfit terminated their relationship with them, and the state Department of Justice began looking into the 10 complaints and two lawsuits filed against the company since 2012.

Hannah stopped sourcing and placing pets in 2016.

Today, the biggest name in dog leasing is Wags Lending, another company that’s been accused of not making it clear to customers that they were leasing dogs, and wouldn’t own them when the lease period expired.

As one customer complained, he and his wife signed up to make 27 monthly payments of $95.99 for their bichon frise — totaling $2,687 for the dog, whose store price was $495.

Upon closer inspection of the contract they’d signed, they also learned that, even then, they wouldn’t own the dog.

The dog, unless the San Diego couple forked over yet more money at the end of the lease period, would have to be returned to Oceanside Puppy — the store they leased it from.

Three years later, the horror stories keep coming. Bloomberg did an excellent piece on the seamy side of pet leasing earlier this year.

Here are two more from last week –one from WSB in Atlanta, one from WKMG in Orlando.

It has been well documented by now how Wags does business. But maybe enough repeated exposure will get the message across that this is bad business — not just for dogs, but for the customers who fall for it.

Much like dog cloning, dog leasing never took off in a big way, but it lingers, unfortunately, with new customers being duped, and dogs being placed, repossessed, reassigned and bounced around by a company that cares far more about financing than it does Fido.

No matter how respectable looking a front, or website, they put up, they are basically predators — loan sharks cloaking themselves in cute puppies.

And any pet store selling commercially bred dogs that promotes or refers customers to the service (as many do) is behaving in an equally scummy manner.

The problem is being scummy and doing something technically illegal are two different things.

If the laws aren’t there to drive these people out of business for good, or sue them for everything they are worth, then do what Boston and Massachusetts did nine years ago: Outlaw dog leasing.

Preferably now.

How Trump’s tweets are benefiting dogs

cnbcIt didn’t take long for someone to figure out that having a president who tweets — and tweets from the hip — can lead to some fluctuations in the stock market.

And, this being America, it didn’t take long for someone — in this case a Texas-based digital marketing firm called The Think Tank (T3) — to see that there was some money to be made in that.

But, before you label them greedy profiteers, consider this: The profits they make by short-selling the stock of companies Trump has negatively tweeted about are going to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The ASPCA confirmed to the Washington Post that it has received donations from T3.

“We appreciate their support,” said a spokeswoman, who didn’t comment on what those donations have amounted to.

The company won’t say how much their program, called “Trump and Dump,” has made, either, but described the amount as “YUUUUUUUGE.”

The idea came from a staffer in the company’s New York office.

boeingtweetIt led to the creation by T3 staff of a Twitter bot and algorithm that follows @realDonaldTrump, reviewing each of the many and varied tweets he sends.

When a publicly traded company is mentioned, the bot triggers a “sentiment analysis,” determining if the tweet is going to have a positive or negative effect.

If it leans negative, the algorithm tells a connected E-Trade account to short-sell the stock, which nets T3 a profit.

Short selling means placing a market bet on a share price going down rather than up. (To achieve a better understanding of how exactly short sales work, go somewhere else. This is a dog website, after all.)

lockheed tweetThis week, Trump referred in a tweet to computer problems at Delta Air Lines. T3 made a trade before the stock dropped, and saw a 4.47 percent return. “The Trump & Dump bot was all over it,” said T3 President Ben Gaddis.

lockheedtweet2Stocks dipped for Boeing when Trump, as president-elect, tweeted about the cost of building Air Force One, and they took a dive for Lockheed Martin when he called the expenses of its F-35 jet “out of control.”

Similar stock drops affected automakers Toyota Motor Corp., General Motors and Ford after Trump mentioned them in a tweet about building vehicles in Mexico.

T3 isn’t the first company to capitalize on Trump’s tweets, but it is the first to choose animals as its beneficiaries.

gaddisGaddis said they wanted to fund a cause that would generate minimal controversy, so puppies were an obvious choice.

“We didn’t want to pick an organization that was really political,” Gaddis said, “and who doesn’t love dogs and cats?”

Based in Austin, T3 calls itself an “innovation agency,” working with companies to enhance their digital marketing, mobile applications and website development.

A word about those T-shirts, and other ads

RescueLove_navyAmong many “old school” and unprofitable practices here at ohmidog! is my tendency to treat advertisers like well-trained, perhaps overly-trained, dogs — insisting they stay in their place and don’t dare venture into our editorial columns.

I will let my big old dog in bed with me, and I gladly do so every single night. But when it comes to advertisers, don’t even think about it.

So what’s this T-shirt doing here — in the space that I, way too ethical for my own good, so haughtily reserve for news matter?

For one thing, it’s kind of cool.

For another, with these T-shirts being the biggest ad ever to appear on our pages, I thought it would be a good time to explain this website’s approach to advertising.

(It is not one I recommend to anyone seeking to make money through their website.)

Basically, this middle section of the website is for news, and despite many requests from advertisers to link to their services and products here, I just don’t do it, because it strikes me as sleazy and deceptive.

The rightside column, with all those logos, is for non-profit animal welfare and animal rescue groups, and serves to link the public to their websites. There is no fee for that.

The leftside column, the one clearly marked “advertisements” is for, you guessed it, advertisements.

When ohmidog! started, seven years ago, the hope was that advertising would cover the costs, and maybe even lead to a profit.

That almost worked when we were headquartered in, and focused on, Baltimore.

Then we went and hit the road and ended up living in North Carolina. A few of those local Baltimore ads remain, but I no longer charge those advertisers — partly out of gratitude for helping us get off the ground, partly because fewer Baltimore eyes will see their ads.

Today, most of our ads, including the t-shirt ad at the top, are what are called affiliate ads.

The advertisers pay nothing for them, but if a reader clicks on one of them, and ends up buying something during that visit, the company sends a percentage of their profits my way — generally pennies on the dollar.

So far, those pennies haven’t amounted to much. And as business models go, ohmidog! — even when I wanted it to make money — has always been a prime example of how not to run a website.

We’ve always been all about the content (though I prefer the word “stories), and, while I don’t promise much else, we always will be — without any ads popping up on you, without any links misdirecting you.

What I started out doing for fun and profit, is pretty much becoming just about the fun.

In the months ahead, I’ll qualify for — and plan to start receiving — early social security. So I can only make so much money before having to turn over all the rest to the government.

So, if you must buy a T-shirt, go ahead and click on it, or any of the others now featured in our banner ad.

Just don’t buy too many.

(Photo: The I Love Dogs Site / Sunfrog.com)

Consider yourselves gagged, N.C. citizens

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For those businesses in North Carolina that have something to hide, hiding it became much easier this week.

Both the state House and Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill that muzzles whistleblowers who call public attention to anything from agricultural atrocities to elder abuse.

Dubbed an “ag-gag” measure by its critics, the bill gives businesses the right to sue employees who expose trade secrets or take pictures of their workplaces.

Animal rights groups say the measure is aimed at curbing the kind of undercover investigations that have exposed brutal and abusive practices in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

But House Bill 405 (click on the link to see its final version) could curb far more than that.

Nursing home employees might be discouraged from reporting possible abuse cases. Animal shelter staff could be dissuaded from reporting horrid conditions or cruelty to dogs and cats. Even journalists could be hauled into court for simply doing their jobs.

Only government agencies would be safe to shed light on criminal corporate behavior — whether it’s stomping on chickens at poultry farms or mistreating veterans in need of medical care.

Concerns that the bill reaches too far were behind Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of the bill.

The governor said he agreed with curbing the practice of people who get hired merely so they can film undercover or gather corporate documents, but he said the bill doesn’t protect those “honest employees who uncover criminal activity.”

The House voted 79-36 to override his veto, and the Senate quickly followed suit, voting 33-15 to override.

Among those against the bill were animal rights groups, journalism organizations, the Wounded Warrior Project and the AARP, which said the law could have a chilling effect on those who might come forward with evidence of elder abuse.

“To give one relevant example, allegations surfaced last year that employees at Veterans Affairs facilities in North Carolina had been retaliated against for whistleblowing,” wrote Steven Nardizzi, chief executive of the Wounded Warrior Project. “As an organization dedicated to honoring and empowering injured service members, we are concerned that this legislation might cause wrongdoing at hospitals and institutions to go unchecked.”

The sponsors of the house bill said critics were wrongly characterizing it, WRAL reported.

“It doesn’t stop good employees from reporting illegal activities to other authorities,” said Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland.

That much is true. All the bill does is make it easy for large companies and their lawyers to go after those honest employees and ensure that, when they open their mouths, they’ll be stomped on too.

Republican backers of the measure said it was important to protect businesses from bad actors.

As for who’s supposed to protect us from bad-acting businesses engaged in harmful practices, well, that’s not covered in the bill.

“Not only will this ag-gag law perpetuate animal abuse, it endangers workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees, and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply, said Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals. “This law is bad for consumers, who want more, not less, transparency in food production.”

(Photo: Inside a North Carolina poultry plant; by Bethany Hahn / Associated Press)