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Tag: devices

Technology run amok … Yuk!


Nature tends to run its own course, just as technology that attempts to control nature tends to run its.

The results, when unforeseen possibilities are thrown into the mix, aren’t always pretty.

The depiction above is by one Jesse Newton, showing what happened on a recent night when nature ran its course, via his dog Evie, and then his trusty Roomba, programmed to clean up all the hair Evie sheds, ran its.

That zig-zagging, curly-cued brown trail recreates the stained path the Roomba left in the Newton’s living room in Arkansas after rolling through a pile of Evie’s poop.

evieEvie is house-broken — programmed, if you will, to take care of those things when the Newton family lets her out each night before bed.

But on this night, somebody forgot to do that.

As everyone slept — Jesse, wife Kelly and son Evan — the robot vacuum did what it is programmed to do every night between midnight and 1:30 a.m.: Roll all across every inch of the living room floor sucking up any debris in its path.

The results were disastrous, Jesse noted in a now-viral Facebook post that warns other Roomba/dog owners of a possibility they might not have envisioned:

“… Poop over every conceivable surface within its reach, resulting in a home that closely resembles a Jackson Pollock poop painting. It will be on your floorboards. It will be on your furniture legs. It will be on your carpets. It will be on your rugs. It will be on your kids’ toy boxes. If it’s near the floor, it will have poop on it. Those awesome wheels, which have a checkered surface for better traction, left 25-foot poop trails all over the house.”

What had happened during the night came to his attention when his young son traipsed through the living room and crawled into bed with him the next morning.

newtonsJesse — and he deserves husband of the year honors for this — let his wife continue sleeping.

He gave his son a bath and put him back to bed, then he spent the next three hours cleaning, including shampooing the carpet.

Kelly Newton says she awoke to the smell of “every cleaning product we own” and knew “something epic had taken place.”

Later, Jesse disassembled the Roomba, cleaning its parts and reassembling it, only to find it didn’t work anymore.

Jesse said he called the store where he had purchased the $400 robot, Hammacher Schlemmer, and it promised to replace it.

I’ve railed before about rushing into new technologies that promise to give us control over nature, wrote a whole book on it, in fact. Those pushing such innovations and rushing them onto the market — most often for the profit they might lead to — often don’t take the time to envision all the little things, and big things, that could go wrong.

That haste can lead to far worse things than a stinky mess and a three-hour clean-up.

We can laugh at this one, as Jesse Newton has admirably managed to do.

But, beneath all the mess, there’s a moral to the story — one that, as we turn to robots for more than vacuuming our floors, we might want to slow down and figure out.

(Photos: Jesse Newton / Facebook)

Do we really want to read our dogs’ minds?

Devices claiming to translate what your dog is thinking into human words have been popping up on the Internet for a good five years now, and some of the more gullible among us have bought them — and even contributed to campaigns to bring them to market.

There’s No More Woof an electronic device — still in the testing stages, of course — that Swedish scientists say will be able to analyze dogs’ brain waves and translate their thoughts into rudimentary English.

There’s the slightly more real but far more rudimentary Bow-Lingual, which claims to be able to translate your dog’s barks into emotions, currently unavailable on Amazon.com

There are apps — real and prank ones — that offer dog-to-human translations, virtually all of which have disclaimers saying that they should be used primarily for entertainment purposes.

And there are legitimate research projects underway around the world, with real scientists and animal behaviorists seeking to determine and give voice to what is going on in the heads of dogs.

But wait a minute. Do we really want to know?

As this bit of satire shows, we might not like the result.

It was produced by Los Angeles-based Rogue Kite Productions, an independent film company created by writer/producer/director Michelle Boley and camera operator/editor Taylor Gill, who pursue projects of their liking when not doing their day jobs.

Their spoof depicts a speech articulating device much like one a group in Sweden claims to actually be working on.

No More Woof aims to “break the language barrier between animals and humans,” the Sweden-based Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery (NSID) says on its Indiegogo page.

NSID says the device records electroencephalogram (EEG) readings from a dog that are then analyzed by a Raspberry Pi microcomputer and translated, through a small speaker, into simple phrases like, “I’m hungry,” or “Who is that person?”

Popular Science declared the project almost certainly bogus — and yet money keeps pouring in from donors.

The No More Woof indiegogo page says more than $22,000 has been contributed to the project.

Not to cast aspersions on the Swedish group’s attempt to move technology ahead, but I think Rogue Kite Productions could put that money to better use.

Corn dog, horn dog, porn dog


We all know what a corn dog is, and most of us know what a horn dog is, but what about the newest dog-derived term that is popping up in the news media:

Porn dog?

We humans tend to stick “dog” at the end of other words with reckless abandon — hang dog, hot dog, top dog, underdog, salty dog, shaggy dog, lucky dog, sly dog.

We’re prone to sticking “dog” at the beginning of phrases also — dog days, dog-eared, dog tired, dog eat dog, dog and pony show — and it doesn’t seem to matter whether there is any rhyme or reason or logic to it.

Sometimes the phrases are based on supposed traits pertaining to dogs, sometimes not — as in raining cats and dogs.

Today’s etymological discussion, aimed at clearing up such misnomers, will be limited to three dog terms, starting with the corn dog, a simple little invention with a long-running dispute over its origin.

Carl and Neil Fletcher claim they introduced the world to “Corny Dogs” at the Texas State Fair sometime between 1938 and 1942. Pronto Pup, which sells corn dogs at the Minnesota State Fair, says it invented the cornmeal covered, deep fried treat in 1941. Cozy Dog Drive-in, in Springfield, Illinois, claims to have been the first to serve corn dogs on sticks in 1946 — the same year Dave Barham opened the first location of Hot Dog on a Stick.

Possibly, they are all wrong. Author Linda Campbell, in “300 Years of Kitchen Collectibles,” points out that a “Krusty Korn Dog” baker machine appeared in the 1929 Albert Pick-L. Barth wholesale catalog of hotel and restaurant supplies.

And two years earlier, in 1927, a patent was filed for a device for making battered and deep fried foods, wieners included, impaled on a stick.

(Similarly, the origin of the term “hot dog” is hotly debated, with numerous Americans saying they invented the term for what originated as a German (or Austrian) sausage. The exact year the term “hot dog” began being used as a synonym for “show-off” is not known, but my guess is surfers were behind it.)

horn-dogLess disputed — and far more insulting to dogs, we would submit — is the phrase “horn dog.”

Merriam-Webster defines it as a slang term for “a lustful or sexually aggressive man.” It says the term’s first known use was around 1984.

Dictionary.com says that while the word “horny” dates back to the 1300’s, using it to describe sexual arousal didn’t begin until the latter half of the 1800s. Initially, it was used only to describe male excitement — a man was said to “have the horn” — but eventually it was applied to women as well.

Similarly, the term “horn dog” is most often applied to men, though some females have commented online that, hey, they can be horn dogs, too.

Why did we humans feel the need to tack “dog” onto horn? Like many other phrases using the word dog — and I’m being serious for a moment here — it is based on an outdated and negative view of dogs as beasts who live only to sleep, eat and mate.

All of those are worthy pursuits, but admitting they are what we humans live for (when in reality, we also like to make and spend money) is to portray us as animals, and we like to think we are more than that. So calling someone a horn dog, as opposed to a horn human, somehow makes life easier.

What the phrase, and many dog phrases, overlook is that in reality, more often that not, someone “behaving like a dog” is actually an improvement.

Which brings us to porn dogs.

This one is clearly a misnomer. It’s not someone who watches XXX-rated movies that were filmed in seedy motels (fleabags, perhaps?). Although that (given the pre-existence of the phrase horn dog) would make sense.

Instead, it’s being used to describe dogs who are trained to sniff out a certain adhesive used in electronic storage devices, such as thumb drives, hard drives, and SD cards.

You may recall that such a dog discovered the key evidence that led to a guilty plea in the child pornography case against Jared Fogle, the former Subway spokesperson.

That’s when the term “porn dog” first popped up, and now it’s being perpetuated by others. It doesn’t describe what the dogs do at all, but the term has more zing to it, and is easier to say than “electronic storage device adhesive-sniffing dog.”

“It’s extremely catching and fitting, because that’s what it’s there to do, sniff out child pornographers,” said Jon Dumas, whose organization, Montgomery County Crimestoppers, helped buy such a dog for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department in Texas.

Actually, it’s not fitting at all because the dogs are sniffing out devices, not pornography, and because child pornography doesn’t smell any different from adult pornography, and because any number of things — incriminating and not incriminating — can be stored on a thumb drive.

The specially-trained dog, named Brody, is a chocolate Labrador, KHOU reported.

The new “porn dog” is expected to arrive next month, at which time I’m sure everyone will continue to refer to him as the “porn dog” — to the detriment of dogs, to the detriment of Brody and in defiance of truth.

Humans these days play a little too fast and loose with labels, both in terms of applying them and accepting them. If it’s catchy enough, it doesn’t have to be factual, we seem to think.

Take this year’s hot Christmas gift — the “hoverboard.”

On top of the fact that it is maiming people left and right, it doesn’t hover at all. It has wheels, and it stays on the ground — at least until you fly off of it and break a bone.

Yet everyone — or at least everyone who doesn’t want a drone — wants a hoverboard.

Doggone stupid, is it not?

The dog that brought down Subway’s Jared


A black Lab named Bear is being credited with playing a vital role in building the child pornography case against Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.

While he is not a “porn-sniffing” dog, as some headlines are describing him, Bear is said to be one of only five dogs in the country trained to sniff out electronic media storage devices.

After four months of training, Bear can detect SD cards, thumb drives, iPads and more.

The dog has worked five investigations for the Indiana Crimes Against Children Task Force, including the one at Fogle’s Zionsville residence.

Officials divulged yesterday how many electronic items seized from Fogle’s home were examined — 16 smartphones, five basic cellphones, five mp3 players, five tablets, six laptops, one desktop, six hard drives, five cameras, 10 flash drives, 10 memory cards, 46 CDs and 22 DVDs.

bear1Prosecutors said the dog’s discovery of a hidden flash drive was vital to the investigation.

Bear sniffed out a thumb drive that humans had failed to find during a search of Fogle’s home — several weeks before he pleaded guilty to having X-rated images of minors and paying to have sex with teenage girls.

Bear also took part in the investigation leading to this week’s arrest of Olympics gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp.

This week his owner and trainer, Todd Jordan, sold Bear to the Seattle Police Department to help investigate Internet crimes.

Jordan, a deputy fire chief, also trains dogs and sells them to law enforcement agencies.

Jordan gave NBC News a demonstration of Bear’s abilities, walking him through an apartment while repeatedly giving him the command “Seek!”

The dog zeroed in on a kitchen drawer, which Jordan opened to reveal a device. “Good boy!” he told Bear, giving him a treat.

Jordan got Bear as a rescue a year ago and spent four months training him on a food-reward system.

(Photos: (Jim Seida / NBC News)

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.

What part of “no” don’t you understand?

You know how frustrated you get when you have to tell your dog something over and over again?

Come here. Come HERE. Listen to me. Get over here right now. Don’t make me say it again. COME HERE!

In this video, the shoe is sort of on the other paw.

John Ventresco, of New Hampshire, is trying to persuade his 11-month-old husky, Blaze, to get into her crate.

Not only does Blaze physically (but peacefully) resist, refusing to budge, but she says what sounds like “no” — 30 times by my count, at least 10 of those quite clearly:


Posted on YouTube just two weeks ago, the video is approaching 5 million views, meaning a lot of people are getting a chuckle, and learning how not to train a dog, and debating whether Ventresco — as gentle and good-humored as his urging is — is going to get bitten one of these days, and, if so, will he have deserved it.

Eventually one of them will have the other properly trained, I’m just not sure if it will be Ventresco or Blaze. Right now, it appears to be a draw.

The bigger question it raises, to me, anyway, is whether the day will come when dogs really do talk. I predict it will — that they will someday talk, on their own, without the aid of implants, headsets, devices that monitor their brain waves and apps that translate what they’re thinking into words.

Several projects are underway that do just that — because we humans want to know what’s going on in their heads, and we want to know now, and somebody somewhere thinks it might make some money.

We’ll take advantage of technology to bring that about and get it on the market as soon as possible, rather than wait a few hundred or thousand more years when, I’d venture, dogs will have evolved to the point that they’re talking on their own anyway.

It’s only natural for that to happen, with them living so closely to us, observing us around the clock,  and watching too much TV. They will continue to pick up our skills — learning to operate a remote control, warming up some chicken nuggets, uttering words, then entire phrases.

Mark my words. By the year 2525 (and that’s just a wild guess), dogs will be saying “yes” and “no,” and more:

Feed me.

I want to go outside for a while.

But wait, there’s more. Details at 11. Ohmigod, they killed Kenny. Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.

Put me in that damn crate again and, I swear,  I’m going to call my attorney.

They may never have as sophisticated a vocabulary as us, may never be as erudite, snotty, self-promoting and adept at making barbed comments as us. But the day will come that they use words.

The question is not whether dogs will someday learn to talk. It’s whether, when they do, we’ll listen.

We already stink at that — in terms of listening to our fellow humans, and in terms of hearing what our dogs are silently saying. We’re so dependent on words we don’t hone our wordless communication skills, even though that mode is often more honest and meaningful.

My fear is that, through continued domicile-sharing with humans, dogs are going to learn to talk, but also — like Blaze, like Ventresco — not to listen.

It all brings to mind some lyrics from a song that has nothing to do with dogs — Don McLean’s “Vincent.” When you think about it, the misunderstood artist and modern day dog have much in common. We wonder what they’re trying to say, fail to see their brilliance, and don’t appreciate them fully until they’re gone.

Instead, often, we taunt, ridicule and shame them.

How much shorter might Van Gogh’s career have been, how many appendages might he have lopped off,  were he around in the Internet age, reading nasty comments from people about his paintings?

How much quicker might the civil rights movement have progressed if people had shut up and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., the first time?

Are we getting any better at listening, or quicker to turn a deaf ear?

As the song “Vincent” says:

They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

Let’s give it a listen.

Bulletin: Not everybody loves your dog

Farhad Manjoo doesn’t want to pet your dog.

In fact, he’d prefer it if you’d keep your dog to yourself — out of the park he wants to read in, away from the cafe where he enjoys his Frappuccino, and definitely not in the gym in which he works out.

It was a case of the latter that triggered a well-written, semi-playful, anti-dog diatribe he wrote for Slate last week.

Manjoo argued that dogs are getting too many privileges. He pointed out that not everybody enjoys their presence, cited health hazards they could conceivably pose, and suggested all those people who take their dogs everywhere start leaving them at home.

Not sharing one’s dog? To me, that’s the equivalent of hiding a Van Gogh behind an ironing board in the basement. Or putting a newfound cure for cancer in a time capsule. Or shielding your eyes — just to be safe — from a blazing sunset.

Still, we’d defend Manjoo’s preference to live life without somebody else’s dog in his face. That’s his right. It’s his loss, but it’s also his right.

Manjoo is Slate‘s technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. So it doesn’t surprise me — he being caught up in all things digital — that he has failed to catch on to or be captivated by the wonder of dogs.

Microchipping aside, dogs and technology are best kept separate. They don’t always get along, maybe because they are the antithesis of each other. Technology may be the cure for everything, but dogs are the cure for technology. We’ll get back to this point, but first let’s look at what Manjoo said — after an unwanted encounter with a Doberman inside his gym.

“The dog came up to me, because in my experience that’s what dogs do when you don’t want them to come up to you. They get up real close, touching you, licking you, theatrically begging you to respond… I guess I was fairly sure he wouldn’t snap and bite me, but stranger things have happened — for instance, dogs snapping and biting people all the time. 

“Why was this dog here? And why was no one perturbed that this dog was here?

“…No one was asking because no one could ask. Sometime in the last decade, dogs achieved dominion over urban America. They are everywhere now, allowed in places that used to belong exclusively to humans, and sometimes only to human adults: the office, restaurants, museums, buses, trains, malls, supermarkets, barber shops, banks, post offices… Dogs are frequently allowed to wander off leash, to run toward you and around you, to run across the baseball field or basketball court, to get up in your grill. Even worse than the dogs are the owners, who seem never to consider whether there may be people in the gym/office/restaurant/museum who do not care to be in close proximity to their dogs. …”

Manjoo admits to not being a dog person, but at least — unlike most anti-dog types — he has a sense of humor about it.

“It’s not that I actively despise mutts; I just don’t have much time for them, in the same way I don’t have time for crossword puzzles or Maroon 5,” he writes.

“But here’s my problem: There’s now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to reckon with the idea that there are people who aren’t enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks.”

And seldom, he points out, does anyone whose dog accosts him say they’re sorry.

“… I can promise you she won’t apologize for the imposition. Nor will she ask you if you mind her dog doing what he’s doing. Nor will she pull on its leash, because there won’t be a leash, this being an office, where dogs are as welcome as Wi-Fi and free coffee.”

The same holds true, he notes, at coffee houses.

Here we should point out that the dog pictured atop this post is mine, and that, in the photo, Ace is enjoying an iced coffee product at Starbucks, offered to him by a customer whose behavior indicated she wanted him to visit her table.

When I take Ace to a Starbucks, or most anywhere else, it’s usually pretty apparent who wants to meet him and who doesn’t, and I restrain him accordingly. I don’t have to compile any data or crunch any numbers, I can just tell. It’s not brain surgery, or computer science.

Even though most people go to Starbucks for the free Wi-Fi, or the expensive coffee, I’d estimate about one of two customers wants to meet my dog. Ace — and this isn’t true of every dog — has a way of figuring that out himself, and generally will avoid those who show no interest in him, unless they are in the process of eating a muffin or pastry, in which case he’s willing to overlook the fact they may not be dog lovers.

What makes the numbers even more impressive is that 8 of every 10 customers at your typical Starbucks are under the spell of their computer device and not at all cognizant of what’s going on around them.

Ace is sometimes able to break that spell, at least he does for me.

As for me, I’d rather have access to Fido then Wi-Fi anyday. Fido will soothe me. Wi-Fi will likely, at some point, make me angry and frustrated. Fido will focus me. Wi-Fi will distract me. Wi-Fi will accost me with uninvited and intrusive messages, and send me alerts, and remind me of all the things I need to do today.  Fido will remind me all those things aren’t really that important and can wait until tomorrow. Wi-Fi will take me out of the moment; Fido will keep me in it. Wi-fi has no soul. Fido does, and his presence allows our souls — those of us who have them — to be refreshed. Dogs keep us from becoming an entirely manic society.

No one, if I have my laptop on, will want to come up and pet it, except maybe Farhad Manjoo, who — while not having the least bit of interest in my dog — is probably curious about my gigabytes and apps.

On this much I will agree with Manjoo: There are dog owners who seem unaware that not everybody will delight in their dog, oblivious to the fact that some might find their dog annoying and intrusive. Similarly, though, there are parents of children who don’t realize not everybody will delight in their antics. Similarly, too, there are grown-up people who fail to realize that they themselves are annoying and who we’d prefer not to have inflicted upon us.

Unfortunately, we can’t just ban them. Our choices are limited. We could work on being tolerant —  of all ages, sizes, shapes and species, despite their noise, intrusiveness and abrasiveness levels. Or we could go somewhere else. Or we could complain.

Sometimes, when visiting a Starbucks or other coffee place, I wonder if I should lodge an official complaint with management about Wi-Fi — objecting to its omnipresence, and how it seems to be turning people into keyboard-pushing zombies.

“No,” I’d say, “I’m not technically allergic to it, but I’m uncomfortable with it near. I’ve had some bad experiences with it. Sometimes it bites people when they least expect it, and I’m pretty sure it harbors germs.”

“But it’s wireless,” the manager might say.

“Exactly,” I’d say with a huff. “Put a leash on it.”