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Tag: documentary

Inspired by Michael Phelps and that shark, I arrange an inter-species race of my own

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Some of you might have caught Michael Phelps in his dramatic and courageous race with that great white shark, shown in a Discovery Channel special the other night.

It was yet another inspiring moment in the career of the Olympian, who is a close personal (Facebook) friend of mine.

So inspiring it was that it led me to challenge some creatures from another species to a fully legitimate, no trick photography, race of our own.

Since I write about animals, and am a pretty major celebrity myself, it seemed worth doing, or at least as worth doing as your typical Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, History Channel program.

And humans racing animals has a long and stupid history. Jesse Owens raced a horse. Several athletes have tried to outrun cheetahs. Others have gone up against dogs and ostriches.

True, I am not exactly at my athletic peak these days. I’m still getting over having a kidney removed and, as a result, I’m moving a little more slowly and with a little more discomfort than usual.

satireBut — being a competitive soul (like Mike) — I wasn’t about to let that stop me. I carefully researched and chose the creatures I would competing against.

To capture the contest on video, I hired someone to film it. Being a little strapped for funds, what with hospital bills and all, my videographer was actually a wino I found downtown who, once he got the camera pointed the right way, seemed up to the task.

Unfortunately, he framed the shots in such a way that I don’t appear in them as I glide down the asphalt at what is now my full speed. Don’t let that make you doubt the authenticity of all this though, for my journalistic ethics are every bit as solid as the Discovery Channel, or for that matter, the History Channel, or the Learning Channel.

To further uphold the integrity of the event, I arranged for four judges with unimpeachable reputations to oversee the race — Ryan Lochte, D.B. Cooper, Yeti and Amelia Earhart.

I won’t put off the suspense any longer, because I know you are all dying to see it. Here is the footage:

While the snail broke out to an early lead, the slug managed to stay right behind it, and I was right behind the slug, though out of the camera’s frame.

Eventually I passed the slug — you’ll just have to take my word for it — and pulled even with the snail. I had opened up a pretty good lead when, realizing one of my sneakers had come untied, I bent over to re-tie it.

Before I was able to get upright, I was swallowed whole by a giant anaconda. I thought escape would be impossible, as if I was in Al Capone’s vault. But, a few minutes later, I managed to reach up and tickle his throat until he coughed me up.

By the time I was able to get back on my feet — not without a few groans — both the snail and the slug were way in front of me, leaving trails of slime behind them that made getting my footing difficult.

I reached deep down inside, near where my kidney used to be, and summoned up the strength for a final burst. Sadly, as I caught up with them, the camera still didn’t have me in the frame.

Now I could have played with the video, and used CGI, so you’d see all three of us in the race, but how honest would that be?

Documentaries should be honest, after all — a straight recounting of the facts with no misrepresentations, deceptions, schmaltzy staged reenactments or trick photography.

I am nothing if not honest, and far be it from me to manufacture drama where none really exists, or to drag out any suspense.

Suffice to say the results of that historic race — John vs. slug vs. snail — left many with their jaws dropped, their hearts pounding and the realization that they had seen something truly special. Some say it will become a legend for the ages. The winner was …

Fade to commercial.

To purchase the CD of John’s race with the snail and the slug, moderated by Morgan Freeman, send $89.99 to Phake Newz Documentaries, 8999 N. 8999th St., NY, NY. Do so in the next hour and you’ll also receive the envelope it comes in.

Oh yeah, you’re wondering who won. The truth — trust me — is that I pulled out a come-from-behind victory that left the thousands, no make that tens of thousands, of spectators all on the edge of their seats, cheering wildly, including a recently paroled O.J. Simpson, a contingent of leprechauns and more than 100 members of my mermaid fan club.

(Photo representation at top from The Washington Post; video from YouTube, posted by M77174)

Photo bomb: That wasn’t Amelia Earhart, after all; so, doggonit, the mystery lives on

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Two of the biggest news stories of the week — or at least the two most shouted about by the news media — were new evidence surfacing regarding Trump’s ties to Russia and new evidence surfacing in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

Revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting during the campaign with a Russian who promised some dirt on Hillary Clinton were called a “nothing burger” by Trump supporters. But, as the week progressed, it all started looking pretty meaty.

The other so-called investigative breakthrough — “experts” saying they found a photo that shows Earhart and her navigator in the custody of the Japanese on the Marshall Islands after their crash and disappearance in 1937 — turned out to be a totally meatless whopper.

apearhartBy which we don’t mean a lie — just a tremendously lazy mistake. The photo in question, it turns out, originally appeared in a travel book published two years before Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan even began the journey they wouldn’t return from.

The photo was the basis of an hour-long History Channel special Monday — one that was widely promoted in news programs as a possible solution to an 80-year old mystery.

Instead, the whole theory ended up holding about as much as (sorry, Geraldo) Al Capone’s vault.

It’s all just more proof that, when it comes to truth, when it comes to uncovering things, when it comes to unburying treasures, we’re better off putting our faith in dogs. Dogs aren’t concerned with making money, or getting famous, or one-upping, or getting in the last word, or getting interviewed by Matt Lauer.

We talked about the “Earhart photo” in a post earlier this week, but that post pertained more to another, less publicized effort to get to the bottom of the Earhart mystery, and how it had turned to some “bone sniffing dogs” in an attempt to find Earhart’s bones.

Operating on an alternate theory, and not buying the “photographic evidence,” a Pennsylvania-based group called The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) sent four border collies to a site they have been focusing on — a small coral atoll about 400 miles south of Howland Island.

Four dogs alerted to a spot in the area, and excavation ensued, but no bones were found.

They had hoped to find bones and, through DNA testing, link them to Earhart. Some small glimmers of hope remain. Dirt from the site has been sent to a lab though to see if any traces of human DNA remain in it, and there’s a possibility that human DNA could be found in crabs that scavenged on any bones.

nothing burgerThat quest could turn out to be a “nothing burger,” too, but even so it won’t be as embarrassing as the efforts of Les Kinney, the former treasury agent who came across a photo in the National Archives that he and others were highly convinced depicted Earhart and her navigator in Japanese custody.

That led to History Channel documentary, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which aired Sunday and concluded that, based on the photo and other evidence, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan ended up in Japanese custody on the Marshall Islands after they survived a crash landing.

The documentary touted the image as “the key to solving one of history’s all-time greatest mysteries.”

Many a news organization billed the photo that way, too, until Wednesday, when they all started backtracking after learning a Tokyo-based blogger unearthed the same photograph in the archives of Japan’s national library. It had appeared in a book — published in 1935.

Kota Yamano, a military history blogger, ran an online search using the keyword “Jaluit atoll” and a decade-long time frame starting in 1930.

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” he said, along with its source — a travel book published two years before Earhart began the attempted around the world journey in 1937.

The Internet search took all of 30 minutes, he said.

“I was really happy when I saw it, Yamano said. “I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”

Major news media didn’t do that, either, opting to put more effort into hyping the story than doing a little digging of their own.

So thanks to Koto Yamano for letting us know the “Earhart photo” was a “nothing burger.” (Maybe we should have him figure out this whole Russia and Trump thing.)

According to the website knowyourmeme.com — if we are to believe it — the earliest known usage of the term “nothing burger” was by Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons. She used it in reference to actor Farley Granger, whose acting chops she apparently questioned.

When the actor was released from his contract with Samuel Goldwyn’s studio, MGM, in 1953, she wrote “After all, if it hadn’t been for Sam Goldwyn Farley might very well be a nothing burger.”

The concept — though the term wasn’t used — was pretty much the basis of Wendy’s old “Where’s the beef?” advertising campaign, and the phrase itself has enjoyed a revival this year, thanks mainly to politics, and the presidential campaign, and the Internet, where we don’t seem to agree on anything except what cool-sounding phrase we all want to use, be it “game changer” or “nothing burger.”

If the Amelia Earhart mystery ever is solved, I suspect dogs will be part of that resolution, probably DNA, too — but not emails, not quickie documentary makers trying to sell a story, and definitely not politicians.

(Photos: At top, the photo some investigators said included Earhart, after her plane crashed, as it appeared in Umi no seimeisen : Waga nannyou no sugata, a photo book in Japan’s national library published in 1935; below, the actual Earhart in an Associated Press photo; at bottom, an actual nothing burger)

Dogs are on the trail of Amelia Earhart, too

kayle

You’ve probably heard about the guy who thinks an enlarged and grainy photo he stumbled across at the National Archives may solve the mystery of what became of Amelia Earhart.

But you might not have heard that some dogs are on the case as well.

While the photo, unearthed by former U.S. Treasury agent Les Kinney, is grabbing headlines, four dogs retained by a group with a different theory on Earhart’s death have been trying to sniff out the pioneering aviator’s remains at a location hundreds of miles away.

Kinney is convinced the photo shows Earhart (with her back to the camera) and her navigator Fred Noonan some years after they disappeared.

The dogs are looking for something a little more concrete — namely Earhart’s bones.

There are competing theories on what became of Earhart — with some arguing her plane crashed and sank into the ocean, others suspecting she and Noonan survived after crashing on a remote island and others believing they ended up in the custody of the Japanese in the Marshall Islands or on Saipan.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has focused its recent investigation on Nikumaroro Island, nearly 1,000 miles from the Marshall Islands.

The group sent four border collies — named Marcy, Piper, Kayle, and Berkeley — to the island on June 30 as part of an expedition sponsored by TIGHAR and the National Geographic Society.

According to National Geographic, TIGHAR researchers had previously visited the island and narrowed their search to a clearing they call the Seven Site, where a British official reported finding bones in 1940.

In 2001 searchers located unearthed possible signs of an American castaway at the site, including the remains of campfires, and several U.S.-made items including a jackknife, a woman’s compact.

Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 2, 1937, on their way to a refueling stop at Howland Island, about 350 nautical miles northeast of Nikumaroro.

TIGHAR’s theory is that, when the aviators couldn’t find Howland, they landed on Nikumaroro’s reef during low tide.

The bone-sniffing dogs were brought to the island in hopes of finding proof that their remains were on Nikumaroro.

All four dogs alerted to a particular spot, indicating they had detected the scent of human remains, and excavation began on July 2, the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance.

dnaNo bones have been found, but TIGHAR researchers collected soil samples, which have been sent to a lab for DNA testing.

If she were buried there, the soil could still contain traces of Earhart’s DNA.

Kinney’s counter theory, meanwhile is that the aviator and her navigator ended up in Japanese custody, which, he says, the photo seems to support.

Kent Gibson, a forensic analyst who specializes in facial recognition, said it was ‘very likely’ the individuals in the photo are Earhart and Noonan, according to NPR.

amelia

Under Kinney’s theory, when Earhart couldn’t find Howland Island she turned back westward and landed on Mili Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands.

Kinney suspects Earhart and Noonan were rescued after the crash and taken to Jaluit Island, and later taken to a Japanese prison on the island of Saipan.

(Photo: At top, forensic dog Kayle sits on a spot where she alerted to the scent of human bones; lower, the excavation for bones begins; both photos by by Rachel Shea / National Geographic; at bottom, the photo some suspect shows Earhart (seated at the center) and Noonan (standing at the far left), from the National Archives)

Secret Life of the Human Pups

secret-life-human-pups

All we can learn from dogs, and how, in many ways, we should strive to be more like them, are recurring themes on this website.

But, for the record, this is not what we mean.

A new documentary by Channel 4 in the UK takes a look at the “secretive” world of men who like to dress up as, and play the role of, dogs.

Around 10,000 people follow the pet play craze in the UK, according to “Secret Life of the Human Pups” — in which several members of this “secret” society dress up and strut before the cameras.

Apparently, it’s another one of those secret societies that — judging from some of its related websites, and the public competition it holds every year — really craves attention.

The documentary — sensationalistic as it is, albeit in a properly restrained British kind of way — isn’t unearthing any new ground.

Furries — people who dress up and behave as animals — have been around for decades, and the only new twist we can see is a trend towards preferring latex over fur costumes.

Participants, as always, range from those who enjoy a playful escape from reality to those who truly wish to be another species, from those seeking to shock and grab attention to those who are probably in need of some mental health counseling.

Anonymous sex, as always, while not what it’s entirely about, remains a strong component — at least for some participants.

The director of the documentary, Guy Simmonds told Newsweek he began pursuing the project after he “stumbled across some pictures [of human dogs] on the Internet.”

“… The more we researched it, the more surprised I was to learn how large the community was in the U.K. They’ve got their own social networking sites, events and competitions.”

The documentary aired Wednesday night.

Simmonds says puppy players (generally men) come from all walks of life: “We’ve come across librarians, security guards, even CEOs of huge corporations who wanted to remain anonymous. There are gay, straight, transsexual, asexual pups.”

One 42-year-old man described the appeal of pretending to be a pup this way:

“Life is getting more hectic nowadays, so much pressure on work and life. Some people drink, there’s drugs… You’ve got to be civilized in our society. When you’re in puppy mode, all that goes away. We don’t care about money; we don’t care about what job you’ve got, or the bigger car.”

For other people, role-playing as a dog can be a way of dealing with social anxiety, deep-rooted childhood issues or chronic medical conditions.

London-based psychotherapist Wendy Bristow says it is not uncommon for those who have experienced childhood trauma to seek comfort in forms of escapism. She points to cases of paraphilic infantilism, in which adults seek comfort by putting on diapers and regressing back to being a baby.

By taking on the role of something in need of nurturing — be it puppy or baby — they may be attempting to make up for a lack of it in their pasts.

“The technical term is displacement,” she said. “They’re doing an activity that gets them comfort, but they’re not expected to relate back apart from being grateful.”

Whatever the case, it seems there is one thing that both dogs and men who dress up as dogs are probably seeking more than anything else — attention.

Dogs vs. cats: The battle goes on

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In the perpetual debate over which makes a better pet — dog or cat — cats have been taking a drubbing lately.

It’s a silly argument to begin with: Why must we deem one species superior? What possible good does that serve? And it’s mostly a waste of time. Converting a dyed-in-the-wool dog lover to a staunch cat lover is about as likely as getting someone to switch from Donald to Hillary.

Yet, conflict seems to be something we humans require, or at least enjoy. And the endless argument does provide fodder for bloggers. And, every now and then, something interesting comes up.

In the past year, scientific and semi-scientific studies comparing dogs and cats have come down more squarely on the side of dogs — enough so that you’ve got to wonder if some cat-hater is behind it all.

dog_wins_tee_cat_tic_tac_toe_1024x1024(For the record, we confess a personal preference for dog right here at the start, though we like cats, too.)

One such study was conducted as part of a new BBC2 documentary called “Cats v. Dogs: Which is Better” — a silly concept for a TV show, though we admit some of what they bring to light is thought provoking.

Dr. Paul Zak, a California neuroscientist, compared how much oxytocin dogs produce compared to cats, and he concluded that dogs love humans more than cats do. Five times as much to be exact.

It has been well documented that bonding, petting and having eye contact with your dog produces increased levels of the oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, in both dog and human.

“It’s one of the chemical measures of love in mammals,” Zak said. “Humans produce the hormone in our brains when we care about someone. For example, when we see our spouse or child the levels in our bloodstream typically rise by 40-60 percent.”

The neuroscientist checked the oxytocin levels in both cats and dogs, taking saliva samples from 10 cats and 10 dogs on two occasions – 10 minutes before a playtime session with their owners and immediately after.

“I was really surprised to discover that dogs produced such high levels of oxytocin .. The dog level of 57.2 percent is a very powerful response. It shows these dogs really care about their owners,” he said.

dog-ppl-vs-cat-ppl4Zak said he was surprised to find any oxytocin at all in cats, which he said had never been tested for the hormone before.

Zak, also known as “Dr.Love,” believes upping our oxytocin (and hugging more) could change the world. He once took blood from an entire wedding party and a sampling of guests, to see how their oxytocin levels went up during the ceremony.

He also spent two years trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve his use of oxytocin inhalers on experimental subjects. (In the meantime, as reported in The Guardian, he used one on himself.)

Zak’s determination that canines love us more than felines do was just the latest bit of bad press for cats.

Another recent study, at Manhattanville College in New York, found canines provide humans with more benefits than cats.

The research suggested dog owners are more conscientious, less neurotic and more agreeable than cat owners. Dog owners scored higher in well-being than cat owners on all measures.

Last year, a study at the University of California, Berkeley, found, through web-based surveying, that cat owners were more anxious than cat owners.

If you still don’t believe cats have been getting some bad press, check out this headline on a story about a study of cats last year: “Study: Your cat might be trying to kill you.”

The story dealt with a study by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the Bronx Zoo that compared the personality of the domestic cat with bigger, wilder members of the cat species.

The headline … well, it’s what happens when you try to condense a 40-page study into eight catchy words.

So if you find yourself reading/listening to/watching the latest account of which is better, cats or dogs — whether it’s labeled science or not — be at least a little wary.

And if it stresses you out, go pet your dog. Or cat.

Of Dogs and Men: Documentary examines epidemic of dog shootings by police officers

A new documentary brings attention to an epidemic that really needs some — the shooting of dogs by police officers in America.

Anyone who reads this website knows it happens far too much — take Tuesday, for example — and often without good reason.

There are no firm statistics, but consider the estimates: The Department of Justice says about 10,000 dogs are shot by police officers every year.

And the number of police officers killed by dogs? None. Ever.

The documentary “Of Dogs and Men” takes a look at those alarming numbers, and what’s behind them, featuring many of the same cases we’ve reported here:

• Cisco, who was playing Frisbee with his owner in his Austin, Texas back yard when police at the wrong address for a domestic dispute call, shot and killed him.

• Payton and Chase, who were shot by police during a raid on a Maryland home – not only was their owner innocent of any charges, he is the town’s mayor.

• General Patton, who watched as his owners were handcuffed on the side of a Tennessee highway, completely innocent of any charges, and then killed as he exited the car, wagging his tail.

• Patches, a 12 pound Jack Russell terrier, who was shot by a 250-pound police officer who claimed to be in fear for his life.

“From SWAT raids to simple calls and even visits to wrong addresses, we are seeing more and more incidents of officers using lethal force against a family pet, despite the fact that no officer has ever been killed in the line of duty by a dog,” said director Michael Ozias. “We are hoping that this film compels more jurisdictions to follow the lead of states like Texas and Colorado that have taken steps to protect our law enforcement officers and our family dogs through increased awareness, proper training and effective policy.”

Of Dogs and Men, by Ozymandias Media, Inc., will premier Nov. 1 at the Austin Film Festival.

The film is being released in association with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

“Use of deadly force is rarely justified in these types of cases,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “With better training, we are confident that we can put an end to these pointless killings,”

“Of Dogs and Men does an excellent job educating citizens on both the common facts of these heartbreaking cases and the surprising scope of the problem, while highlighting the tools citizens can employ to change outcomes for the better—from legislation requiring officer training in canine encounters to litigation under the federal civil rights act,” Wells added. “This film needed to be made and ALDF is proud to be a part of it.”

Some states are headed in the right direction.

Texas, where the problem is perhaps most severe, passed HB 593 in 2015, which requires mandatory canine encounter training for incoming Texas peace officers as well as those who seek advancement. The training helps officers who encounter dogs achieve safe and non-confrontational outcomes for both the officer and the dog.

The State of Colorado also enacted a statute that requires local law enforcement to undergo training to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening dog behaviors, and employ non-lethal means whenever possible.

Illinois has enacted similar legislation and other states are considering it as well.

Denali: A “little” film with a big message

Denali from FELT SOUL MEDIA on Vimeo.

Denali is a short film, but definitely not a “little” one.

Documenting the bond between a nomadic photographer and his dog, it is beautiful and sweeping, both in its photography and in what it says about the human soul, the dog soul, and that “team soul” that often forms when dog and person are thrown together.

Ben Moon and Denali came together in 1999, when he and his girlfriend adopted the dog from a shelter. After breaking up with the girlfriend, Moon and Denali hit the road, traveling around the Pacific Northwest as Moon photographed surfers, rock climbers and other adventurers.

In 2004, Moon was diagnosed with cancer. While in the hospital for surgery and, later, long chemotherapy sessions, nurses permitted Denali to be in the room — and you get the impression neither of them would have allowed it any other way.

Moon beat the cancer, and the pair hit the road again.

More than a few times, in the years that followed, Denali was featured in Moon’s published photography.

In 2014, Denali, at the age of 14, was diagnosed with cancer.

One month later, he was gone.

In Denali’s last weeks, Moon began compiling what would turn into the movie, Denali — his tribute to the dog he’d traveled with, over peaks and valleys both literal and figurative, for nearly 15 years.

A collaboration between Moon, director Ben Knight, and cinematographer Skip Armstrong, the film premiered at 5Point Film Festival, winning both Best of Festival and People’s Choice.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and I highly recommend viewing it on your full screen. And given it’s a work aimed at exploring emotions — not tugging at them — you may also watch it with a fully open heart.

It shows us how resilient humans can be, how resilient dogs can be, and how that resiliency — and the joy of life — can reach even greater heights when dog and human bond.

In his eulogy for Denali, Moon noted that, painful as losing him was, it was a time to celebrate.

“…However difficult the transition, it’s cause for reflection and a celebration of how much love and joy this incredible dog brought into my life.

“Thank you Denali for giving me the courage to hit the road with a camera, a van, and no plan back in 2001, for never taking your eye off me through a year of cancer treatments, surgeries and countless other challenges. Thank you for your uncanny ability to walk into a frame at precisely the right moment to elevate an image, for teaching me patience and the joy in the simple quiet moments as I watched you grow older, and most of all, giving selflessly the unconditional love that only a true friend can give. It’s impossible to put into words all that you were and will always be to me — I was always convinced you were more human than dog, and all of the countless lives you touched felt the same.

“Thank you for your unwavering belief in me, happy trails my friend!”