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Tag: contest

Is artwork an attack on pit bulls?

outofblue3

Whether it’s art, propaganda, or a combination of the two, a memorial to victims of fatal dog attacks is creating controversy as one of dozens of entries in a public art display in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The work  is called ”Out of the Blue,” a reference to how dog attacks — and particularly pit bull attacks, the artist repeatedly points out — usually happen.

outofblue2The display, created by a woman identifying herself as Joan Marie Kowal, consists of more than 30 decorated crosses, representing the number of people killed in dog attacks this year, and images of the victims, many of them children.

The artwork is rubbing some dog lovers, and particularly pit bull lovers, the wrong way, which has led to some demonstrations and the kind of heated, everybody’s an expert debate that follows pit bulls around wherever they go.

Joan Marie Kowal, we suspect, has more experience in badmouthing pit bulls than she does in creating art, but then again artists don’t need credentials in this competition.

Every year, for 19 days, three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids is opened up to artists in ArtPrize, a competition that awards $200,000 to the grand prize winner.

Downtown becomes “an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters,” according to the  ArtPrize  website. ”Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown … It’s unorthodox, highly disruptive, and undeniably intriguing to the art world and the public alike.”

This year, “Out of the Blue” has proved among the most disruptive.

A week ago, perturbed pit bull owners brought their dogs to Calder Plaza, where the entry is displayed, in hopes of presenting their views and showing that pit bulls — the breed most often mentioned in the memorial — aren’t vicious killing machines.

When they sat down in front of the memorial, Kowal complained they were obstructing the public’s view.

Kowal told MLIVE.com in an email that “visitors can’t even see the art and many have told me the bully breed owners, sitting on the ledges blocking the view of the victims’ biographies and refusing to move, makes them unable to enjoy the piece.”

Grand Rapids Police Lt. Pat Dean said Kowal filed a complaint in late September about people sitting with pit bulls on the stone wall in front of her ArtPrize entry. Police found nothing illegal at that time, he said, and members of the group, while on public property, moved at the request of officers.

Kowal describes the work as “an opportunity to Pay it Forward, and show the good side of humanity. Visitors are encouraged to express their sympathy, respect, and support for the victims and their families by leaving teddy bears, flowers, or memorial decorations in the designated heart-shaped memorial space.”

According to a brief biography listed on the ArtPrize website,  Kowal is an animal lover, who has feral cats and pet squirrels. She attended Grand Valley State University.

Not a whole lot can be learned about her through searching her name on the Internet, and there’s no mention of any previous artistic pursuits.

There was a 2011 MLIVE.com article that mentioned her name, and quoted her as being a supporter of a proposed pit bull ban in Wyoming, Michigan.

Perhaps she became an artist “out of the blue.” Perhaps her anti-pit bull passion needed an outlet.

We support the right for just about anyone to call themselves an artist, assuming they are making some form of art. We don’t have a problem with Kowal expressing herself — either vocally or through her “art” — on the streets of Grand Rapids. By the same token, we have no problem with pit bull owners and their dogs sitting down squarely in front of it, as long as it’s public property. They have the right to express themselves in public, too, whether they’re ArtPrize contestants or not.

So do we. And our opinion is Kowal is pushing her personal agenda under the guise of a non-profit organization’s art competition, and that it’s likely part of a well-plotted effort by those forces intent on painting all members of the breed with the same brush, reinforcing negative stereotypes while playing fast and loose with the facts.

Kowal says she plans to add three more crosses this weekend in remembrance of three other people who died from injuries she says were caused by pit bull attacks.

“That is not my fault that they were all killed by pit bulls,” she said. “I’m just showing the facts.”

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

peanut2

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)

UK’s first canine clone is born in Seoul

miniwinnie

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)

Woof in Advertising: Maddie

This is a sweet little commercial for Chevrolet — quite reminiscent of one for Subaru — that follows, though in reverse, a young woman’s bond with her dog.

The tagline: Chevrolet, “a best friend for life’s journey.”

We’d hope, for your sake, your car isn’t your best friend.

Cars and dogs do have some things in common — the high cost of keeping them running, the constant feeding, the licensing requirements, and the fact that they are nearly always at our side. And they do both produce some exhaust.

But, otherwise, there’s really no comparison.

The dog loves you unconditionally. The car has air conditioning. Your dog will offer up a soft and furry paw. Your car is a metal hunk that will tell you to put your seat belt on. Your dog has a soul. Your car has a transmission.

Nevertheless, in our ongoing monitoring of the use of dogs in advertising, we’ve noticed automobile companies seem to be trying harder and harder to get you to think of your car as a dog — loyal, dependable, always there.

They’d like you to have that same powerful bond with their brand of automobiles in the hopes that, when you have to put the old Chevrolet down, you’ll go out and get another one of the same breed.

This ad — though it wasn’t the winner — was one of 72 submissions in the Chevrolet Mofilm Short Film Program. The program allows filmmakers from around the world to submit a short movie, with the winner’s ad being aired during the Oscars.

To see some of our other Woof in Advertising posts, click here.

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.

Boston terrier wins Elvis lookalike contest

Ace and I have been avoiding all things Elvis — not easy to do when one is between Memphis (home of Graceland) and Tupelo (birthplace of The King).

Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t pass along this news:  A Boston terrier named Boomer won the Elvis Pet Look-A-Like contest at the 2010 Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival.

Boomer, who has his own website — boomertheboston.com – came all the way from Springfield, Missouri to compete in the contest.

As you might guess, there’s an even more popular human division, whose sideburned entrants came from as far away as Canada, the Tupelo Daily Journal reported.

The weekend event included a reenactment of Elvis’ mother purchasing him his first guitar at Tupelo Hardware.

Boomer donned an Elvis-style wig, sideburns included, and a rhinestone jumpsuit for the Elvis lookalike pet contest, which followed the Elvis parade and benefitted the Tupelo-Lee County Humane Society.

Sadie wins best in show at Westminster

Sadie, a four-year-old Scottish terrier, was named best in show at Westminster, beating out 2,500 entrants at the 134-year-old dog show.

“She’s the total package,” said Elliot Weiss, of Eagle, Idaho, who judged the Best in Show round before a cheering, capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden. “This is the complete dog … That’s what you want a Scottie to look like.”

Sadie went into the competition as a favorite of both oddsmakers and experts, having won both the National Dog Show in suburban Philadelphia in November and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in California in December.

Unlike in recent years, when relatively unknown crowd favorites Uno, a beagle, and Stump, an aging Sussex spaniel, captured top honors, this year’s best in show was no surprise.

On Tuesday, the loudest cheers were for a sleek Doberman Pinscher and a French Bulldog whose mugging won the crowd over, Reuters reported.

The final round of judging was disrupted when two female protesters strode out to the winner’s circle and held up signs, including one reading “Mutts rule,” a reference to the “Dogs rule” ad campaign that has run throughout the competition. The protesters were removed by security.

Terriers are the winningest group in WKC history, having won nearly half the events throughout the club’s history. Sadie also made last year’s Best in Show round. The WKC was her 112th Best in Show and the eighth Westminster Kennel Club victory for a Scottie.

This year’s competition saw 2,500 entrants representing 173 breeds and varieties. Other breeds vying for the big prize on Tuesday were a toy Poodle, a Puli, a Whippet and a Brittany.

Handler Gabriel Rangel said Sadie was “a very happy dog. She always enjoys herself. Nobody ever tells her ‘no.’

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