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Dog walker blasted for leaving Lab in his Jag

rocketIf there were a Professional Dog Walker Hall of Shame, we might have to nominate this Jaguar-driving hipster — at least based on a first-hand account recently published on the Echo Park Forums

The writer was in a Los Angeles supermarket when it was announced that there was a black sports car in the parking lot with its windows rolled up and a dog inside.

She went outside and saw a black Jaguar, with a black Lab panting in the black leather driver’s seat. The car was locked, with its windows up.

Standing by the car was a frantic woman – the one who had reported it to the store and called 911.

Another onlooker was threatening to break the car’s window when a fire truck was waved down. Firefighters got the door open and, as the car’s alarm system blared, they let the dog out.

According to her tags, her name was Chloe.

Chloe perked up after some water, and police showed up at the scene a little later, determining the car’s ownership by checking it’s VIN number. (It had no license plate.)

echoparkThe post says a good hour passed before the driver of the Jaguar showed up. He told officers he was from New York and didn’t understand that the Los Angeles weather was too hot to lock a dog in a car.

He told police the dog was his.

But after onlookers called the phone number listed on Chloe’s collar, they realized he was lying — about that and more.

The dog’s owner answered, saying Chloe belonged to her, and that the black Jaguar was her dog walker’s car.

He has his own dog walking company, Rocket Dog Walking, in Los Angeles, which serves downtown, the Eastside and the Northeast.

He has been identified in Internet comments and on Facebook as an aspiring actor who has appeared in two low-budget movies.

We don’t know if he has a future in acting, but based on this report we know how much future he should have as a dog walker:

None.

(Photos: Echo Park Forums and Facebook)

Animal activist detained in Moscow

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A Russian animal rights activist has been detained in central Moscow after he and two others protested the country’s policy of killing stray dogs in Sochi, according to an Associated Press report

Three activists unfurled a banner near Red Square on Saturday that read “Bloody Olympics.”

The banner depicted a puppy covered in blood.

According to the report, a policeman approached and pulled the banner out of the activists’ hands.

One man was detained while the other two fled.

A year before the Sochi Olympics, municipal authorities announced a contract to “catch and dispose” of strays.

Public pressure led authorities to announce they’d dropped the plan — but they didn’t. Companies have been hired to continue killing the dogs throughout the games, which started Friday and end Feb. 23.

(Photo: A stray dog walks past the Olympic rings during the official flag raising ceremony; by Nathan Denette, The Canadian Press / AP photo)

Talking dogs: A device, from Sweden, that tells you what your dog is thinking

A group of Swedes is selling a device they say can translate your dog’s thoughts into English — and they’re seeking investors to help pay for further development of what they admit is a “work in progress.”

The first of many things we find questionable about this is why the young researchers at Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery — constantly on the lookout, they say, for “cool” and “awesome” things they can do with technology — wouldn’t be translating the thoughts of dogs into Swedish.

The only answers I can come up with are that either they are far more interested in making some money than in figuring out what goes on in a dog’s head, or they view the residents of dog-loving, English-speaking countries as more gullible, and more likely to fall for what they are peddling.

We did buy a lot of Abba albums after all, didn’t we?

Already, they’ve raked in more than $16,000 in their IndieGoGo fund-raising drive.

nomorewoofThe product is called No More Woof. It consists of a headset, worn by your dog, the (non-intrusive) sensors of which pick up EEG signals, and software that translates those signals, via loudspeaker, into thoughts.

Strangely, this company-made video (above) never shows the device in action, yet the inventors are ready to sell you one — either a basic model for $60, or an advanced model for $85, or a more advanced model for $300, or a really, really advanced model for $600.

The development firm also takes credit for inventing a hovering lamp that follows you from room to room, an iPad-charging rocking chair, and “Nebula 12,” described as an indoor cloud. They are currently at work on a flying carpet.

It’s no joke — even if No More Woof sounds pretty laughable.

So far, No More Woof has come up with only four distinguishable statements they can attribute to a dog, based on EEG readings: “I’m excited, “I’m tired, “I am hungry,” and “Who are you?” Once detected by the headset, they are voiced by a loudspeaker.

The bottom line, as we see it, is that they’ve come up with a way — or claim to have, at least – to make the most fascinating animal on earth boring.

Imagine a quiet evening at home, your headset-wearing dog at your side: “I’m hungry. I’m excited. I’m hungry. I’m hungry. I’m hungry.”

And this after you spend hours trying to set the whole thing up, using directions we can only assume will be Ikea-like.

The firm says it is trying to advance human-dog communication. But it doesn’t come across as being sincerely interested in that. It seems much more interested in fund-raising.

nsidNo More Woof’s Indiegogo page repeatedly stresses that the device, while already for sale, is still in development: “To be completely honest, the first version will be quite rudimentary. But hey, the first computer was pretty crappy too.”

They don’t insist that you buy one. If you prefer, you can just send them some money for their continued research.

Our advice would be to hold on to your money, and if you want to communicate with your dog, spend more time with him or her, pay more attention to him or her, look more deeply into him and her, and make your relationship not one of giving and taking orders, but one of learning from each other and exploring life together.

You already know — or at least you should — when your dog is hungry, excited or tired.

Do we really need to be hearing a robot voice tell us that? Do we really need — even if it did work and could develop into something more sophisticated — to turn our intriguing companions into the equivalent of a nagging wife, demanding husband, whining kid, or, worse yet, Siri?

I prefer the silence. And, much as I often wonder what my own dog is thinking, I prefer the mystery.

(Photos and video from NoMoreWoof.com)

Plans for whale meat dog treats dropped

A Japanese company has canned its plan to buy the meat of endangered whales killed in the waters around Iceland and sell it in the form of luxury dog treats.

An Icelandic firm, Hvalur hf,  set to resume commercial whaling next month, had planned to kill up to 174 endangered fin whales and sell the meat to Tokyo-based Michinoku Farm, the Telegraph reported.

Protests from environmentalists prompted the Japanese company to cancel its order, but the whale hunt is still on.

“It’s outrageous,” said Claire Perry of the Environmental Investigation Agency. “It is grotesque to kill an endangered species and then ship it half way around the world in order to feed it to dogs.”

Takuma Konno, head of Michinoku, confirmed that plan has been scrapped.

“Dogs are like family members for many people in Japan,” he said. “We just wanted to supply a wide variety of food for them. We consider dogs as just as important as whales. But it’s not worth selling the product if it risks disturbing some people.”

That hasn’t changed plans for whalers in Iceland, who, after a three year break, will resume hunting for fin whales next month.

Iceland, along with Norway and Japan, refuses to abide by the moratorium on whaling.

Reynolds: The man, the smokes, the legacy

So he played a big role in getting a nation hooked on cigarettes. So he was the richest man in the state of North Carolina. So he was the sort of fat cat businessman from whom I tend to initially withhold respect — based on my automatic assumption that they had to crush a lot of butts on their way to the top of whatever heap they are on.

I wanted to hate him — for being the father of my addiction, for the fact that I can’t finish this blog entry without taking a break for one of his products — but, after a little research, I think I almost like R.J. Reynolds, and, even more, the estate he left behind.

Ace and I hang out there at least once a week — roaming the 130 acres that were part of his 1,000-plus acre country home, known as Reynolda.

The mansion is an art museum now. There are formal gardens, and a one-time village that’s now home to galleries, shops and restaurants.

But what we like best are the hiking trails that take you through thick woods and open meadows, rich with wildflowers and wildlife, past beds of pine needles and vines of  honeysuckle so pungently sweet they penetrate even a smoker’s jaundiced nostrils.

I got my start in cigarettes at, probably, age 16, pilfering Salems from my mother. Then I moved on to unfiltered Pall Malls — also a R.J. Reynolds brand, and also pilfered, in this case from a neighbor.

I remember my mother used to put her Salems in little ceramic holders. The little cups with a dozen or so cigarettes in them could be found around the house, serving almost as decorations. She didn’t smoke them that often, and when she did, she didn’t inhale.

I did — first her throat-searing menthols, then the neighbor’s filterless Pall Malls, before working my way up to Marlboros; those, after all, were perceived as the most manly, and didn’t leave you spitting out little pieces of tobacco.

Like most smokers, I ponder quitting at least weekly, most recently last week as I walked the trails of Reynolda, past a vine of honeysuckle that was leaning out into the path, the tiny tendrils of its blossom waving in the wind, like beckoning index fingers.

If only I could be hooked on honeysuckle, I thought. If only its sweet essence could be inhaled. Then I realized that’s exactly what I was doing. As I wondered if honeysuckle might be my salvation, I realized, if somebody studied it enough, honeysuckle could turn out to be bad for us too (though I don’t see how something with “honey” and “suckle” in its name possibly could).

Then too — even if honeysuckle did satiate that urge, and even if I harvested my own and came up with a smokeless way to imbibe it — it would still lack that ease of use that plays such a big role in getting us hooked.

It was R.J. Reynolds who made smoking so convenient.

In 1913, Reynolds developed the pre-rolled, packaged cigarette. He priced them low, called them Camels, because Turkish paper was used, and they helped propel him to the top of the tobacco heap.

Reynold was born in Virginia to a tobacco-growing, slave-owning family. He attended two colleges, one of them in Baltimore, and went to work for his father before striking out on his own.

In 1874, he moved to what’s now Winston-Salem to start his own tobacco company.  He started his own tobacco company in what was then Winston. There were 15 other tobacco companies in town, but his outgrew them all.

Reynolds was an astute businessman and a hard worker, and he quickly became a wealthy man. He married a woman 30 years his junior, his former secretary Mary Katherine Smith, who, historical accounts suggest, helped bring out his progressive and philanthropic sides.

She successfully urged him to shorten the work hours of employees, pay them more and provide them with meals, schools and nursery services.

When he built what would become Reynolda House, he also had a village constructed nearby where workers could live. It’s now called Reynolda Village, a collection of restaurants and shops. Also on the grounds, golf being his passion, he commissioned a 9-hole golf course, which now serves as the grassy meadow where Ace likes to romp, or just rest.

Before he died, in 1918 of pancreatic cancer, Reynolds served as a city commissioner and helped get both property taxes and income taxes approved.

He also granted endowments to Guilford College, the Oxford Orphan Asylum, and the Baptist Orphanage, in addition to a lot of  other charities and churches in the Winston-Salem community. He became the first southern man to establish a hospital serving African-Americans. He donated as well to establish the Slater Industrial School, which became Winston-Salem State University.

R.J. didn’t get to enjoy Reynolda House too long. He died the year after it was completed.

His daughter, Mary Reynolds Babcock, would donate it for use as an art museum, and the Reynolds’ philanthropic ways would continue. About 300 acres of the Reynolda estate was donated to Wake Forest University, which moved from the town of Wake Forest to Winston-Salem in 1956.

Today, the Reynolds family name is stamped on much of Winston-Salem, including the library at Wake Forest, the airport, a high school, a park and an auditorium, and the various components that make up Reynolda — Reynolda House, Reynolda Village, Reynolda Gardens.

(Having recently returned to my ancestral homeplace in Winston-Salem, moving into the modest apartment in which my parents lived when I was born, I thought about naming it and its adjoining patch of grass after me. But I’m only renting, and Woestendieka doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Reynolda.)

My honeysuckle encounter, and the hours I’ve spent slow-walking with Ace around Reynolda, have got me thinking I need to do more walking and less smoking, more pursuing of health and less feeding of urges. They’ve gotten me thinking too about how times change, and how things we were told were OK turn out not to be –  like slavery and smoking, which, not to diminish the massive evil of the former, have much in common.

I don’t blame R.J. Reynolds for inflicting the scourge of cigarettes on society. He was a product of his times, peddling a product of his times, and pouring some of the profits back into his community. Far more devious, I think, were the subsequent generations of tobacco pitchmen and the marketing techniques they used, aimed as they were at young people (Camels) and women (Virginia Slims and Eve).

Light up — if you want to be cool, if you want to be sexy, if you want to be liberated, or if you merely want to be a rugged Marlboro man.

Most of us — though it took decades — wised up and saw through that. Smoking is bad, and bad for you — always has been, always will be.

At least, maybe, until they come out with All Natural Smokeless Honeysuckle 100′s, which would have the added benefit of leaving you smelling sweet.

Then, and only then, will we have come a long way, baby.

(For more about visiting Reynolda with your dog, see our next entry.)

The truth about the tsunami dog duo

Truth, always elusive, is even tougher to get a handle on in the chaotic aftermath of a tsunami — and that’s one reason the fate of the two dogs pictured in the now famous video of one stranded dog loyally watching over another remains obscure.

Despite reports from CNN, UK Telegraph, NPR, PETA and others that the dogs were rescued — all based solely on Facebook posts by Kenn Sakurai, the owner of a dog food supply company in Japan — their fates remain unclear and uncomfirmed.

The best account we can find is one prepared by Global Animal, an online animal magazine that, unlike most major media,  interviewed Sakurai, who is being described, without documentation, as both a savior or a charlatan in Internet posts 

Global Animal reports that Sakurai told them the two dogs were rescued by friends of his who are off-road bikers and that the dogs are being treated by an undisclosed veterinarian.

Sakurai posted on Facebook last week that the dogs had been saved — and on that page he also sought donations to continue what he described as his work rescuing animals left homeless by the tsunami.

Sakurai lists his occupation as president of Butch Japan, Inc., a dog food company. Oddly, for a self described animal lover, his Facebook page lists Michael Vick among his “favorite athletes.”

Sakurai has reportedly deleted all negative comments from the page — as well as those that questioned his involvement in rescuing the dogs.

Sakurai’s page says he was born in Tokyo, raised in Tokyo and the UK and went to school in Tokyo and New York City. He says he was involved with the development of Tokyo Disneyland and that he now is the importer of ”the safest dog and cat food on the planet.”

After the tsunami, he set up a paypal account so that people could donate to his effort, but, in his later posts on his Facebook page, he says he plans to donate that money to established shelters.

Still, many remain troubled that he has presented no photographic evidence that the two dogs are safe.

Global Animal reports: “Mr. Sakurai says he promised the bikers that he wouldn’t reveal the location of the veterinarian because they don’t want animal rescue organizations to take the dogs for their own fundraising purposes. This is why no pictures are being made available, claims Mr. Sakurai.”

In an editorial written by Arthur Jeon, co-founder of the online magazine, Sakurai is quoted as saying he would try and send the organization photos. But, the magazine said, “we are not hopeful that credible evidence will materialize.”

“Our best guess is that some difficult truth may be hidden here, and that either one or both dogs have died, possibly on the trip or shortly after. Or, that this is a story that got out of hand, perhaps being used to raise money by Mr. Sakurai himself, though he is not associated with any animal rescue organization that’s mobilized in the devastated areas.”

Global Animal provided readers interested in donating money to the animal rescue effort in Japan with a list of legitimate and long-standing animal rescue organizations.

The editorial concludes: “It’s human nature to yearn for a happy ending, to be able to move these dogs’ misery off our mental list of anguish and to find heroes in a horrible reality. It also makes for ‘good copy’ by mainstream news organizations who hit it for its feel-good elements, then move on. However, the web and Facebook are not good places to collect facts for substantiated reporting; these reputable news organizations know better.

“Ultimately, the two dogs … deserve the truth. As do we. If Mr. Sakurai responds with verifiable truth that the dogs are alive and well, nobody will be happier than the hardcore animal lovers and readers of Global Animal.”

PetSmart fires manager for dog on the job

petsmartA PetSmart in New Jersey may be dog-friendly, but its recent firing of a staff member who brought his dog to work  is making it look something less than employee-friendly.

Eric Favetta was fired from his job at the PetSmart in Secaucus for bringing his dog into the closed store while working a last-minute overnight shift.

Favetta, 31, a PetSmart employee since July 2008, placed his dog Gizmo in the store’s empty day care facility while he spruced up the place for a special showing to potential business partners.

“I have always been the type of employee to go the extra mile,” Favetta told  the Newark Star-Ledger’s “Bamboozled” column.

The store, which encourages its customers to bring pets inside, labeled his deed “theft of services,” and fired him.

Favetta served nearly seven years as a dog handler for various military units in Afghanistan and Bahrain. He became operations manager at the PetSmart in Wayne and, based on his good record, was sent to Secaucus.

At 5 p.m. on Dec. 15, Favetta was asked to work a special overnight shift to prepare the store for a viewing by representatives for Martha Stewart’s company, which was considering adding its product lines to PetSmart.

“I brought my dog with me because I knew if I didn’t, he would have been home alone all day and all night until I returned home at 6 a.m. the next day,” Favetta said. Gizmo, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, spent the night in the empty store’s doggie day care facility as Favetta toiled.

Two weeks later, he was called on the carpet and fired.

PetSmart spokeswoman Jessica White explained the situation this way:

“In our eyes, our services business is huge, with our grooming and training and care. Those are viewed as sale items the same way items on the shelf are,”  she said. “To use the facilities and not pay for it — it falls under the same lines.”

A few days later, PetSmart reconsidered and offered him another job. But Favetta has since moved on. He’s now working as a dog handler for a company that uses animals to search for hazards.

(Photo: MITSU YASUKAWA/Newark Star-Ledger)

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